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← What I learned from 100 days of rejection

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Showing Revision 10 created 12/07/2016 by Brian Greene.

  1. When I was six years old,
  2. I received my gifts.
  3. My first grade teacher
    had this brilliant idea.
  4. She wanted us to experience
    receiving gifts
  5. but also learning the virtue
    of complimenting each other.
  6. So she had all of us
    come to the front of the classroom,
  7. and she bought all of us gifts
    and stacked them in the corner.
  8. And she said,
  9. "Why don't we just stand here
    and compliment each other?
  10. If you hear your name called,
  11. go and pick up your gift and sit down."
  12. What a wonderful idea, right?
  13. What could go wrong?
  14. (Laughter)

  15. Well, there were 40 of us to start with,

  16. and every time I heard
    someone's name called,
  17. I would give out the heartiest cheer.
  18. And then there were 20 people left,
  19. and 10 people left,
  20. and five left ...
  21. and three left.
  22. And I was one of them.
  23. And the compliments stopped.
  24. Well, at that moment, I was crying.
  25. And the teacher was freaking out.
  26. She was like, "Hey, would anyone
    say anything nice about these people?"
  27. (Laughter)

  28. "No one? OK, why don't you
    go get your gift and sit down.

  29. So behave next year --
  30. someone might say
    something nice about you."
  31. (Laughter)

  32. Well, as I'm describing this you,

  33. you probably know
    I remember this really well.
  34. (Laughter)

  35. But I don't know who felt worse that day.

  36. Was it me or the teacher?
  37. She must have realized
    that she turned a team-building event
  38. into a public roast
    for three six-year-olds.
  39. And without the humor.
  40. You know, when you see
    people get roasted on TV,
  41. it was funny.
  42. There was nothing funny about that day.
  43. So that was one version of me,

  44. and I would die to avoid
    being in that situation again --
  45. to get rejected in public again.
  46. That's one version.
  47. Then fast-forward eight years.
  48. Bill Gates came to my hometown --
  49. Beijing, China --
  50. to speak,
  51. and I saw his message.
  52. I fell in love with that guy.
  53. I thought, wow,
    I know what I want to do now.
  54. That night I wrote a letter to my family
  55. telling them: "By age 25,
  56. I will build the biggest
    company in the world,
  57. and that company will buy Microsoft."
  58. (Laughter)

  59. I totally embraced this idea
    of conquering the world --

  60. domination, right?
  61. And I didn't make this up,
    I did write that letter.
  62. And here it is --
  63. (Laughter)

  64. You don't have to read this through --

  65. (Laughter)

  66. This is also bad handwriting,
    but I did highlight some key words.

  67. You get the idea.
  68. (Laughter)

  69. So ...

  70. that was another version of me:
  71. one who will conquer the world.
  72. Well, then two years later,

  73. I was presented with the opportunity
    to come to the United States.
  74. I jumped on it,
  75. because that was
    where Bill Gates lived, right?
  76. (Laughter)

  77. I thought that was the start
    of my entrepreneur journey.

  78. Then, fast-forward another 14 years.
  79. I was 30.
  80. Nope, I didn't build that company.
  81. I didn't even start.
  82. I was actually a marketing manager
    for a Fortune 500 company.
  83. And I felt I was stuck;
  84. I was stagnant.
  85. Why is that?
  86. Where is that 14-year-old
    who wrote that letter?
  87. It's not because he didn't try.
  88. It's because every time I had a new idea,
  89. every time I wanted to try something new,
  90. even at work --
  91. I wanted to make a proposal,
  92. I wanted to speak up
    in front of people in a group --
  93. I felt there was this constant battle
  94. between the 14-year-old
    and the six-year-old.
  95. One wanted to conquer the world --
  96. make a difference --
  97. another was afraid of rejection.
  98. And every time that six-year-old won.
  99. And this fear even persisted
    after I started my own company.

  100. I mean, I started
    my own company when I was 30 --
  101. if you want to be Bill Gates,
  102. you've got to start
    sooner or later, right?
  103. When I was an entrepreneur,
  104. I was presented
    with an investment opportunity,
  105. and then I was turned down.
  106. And that rejection hurt me.
  107. It hurt me so bad
    that I wanted to quit right there.
  108. But then I thought,
  109. hey, would Bill Gates quit
    after a simple investment rejection?
  110. Would any successful
    entrepreneur quit like that?
  111. No way.
  112. And this is where it clicked for me.
  113. OK, I can build a better company.
  114. I can build a better
    team or better product,
  115. but one thing for sure:
  116. I've got to be a better leader.
  117. I've got to be a better person.
  118. I cannot let that six-year-old
    keep dictating my life anymore.
  119. I have to put him back in his place.
  120. So this is where I went online
    and looked for help.

  121. Google was my friend.
  122. (Laughter)

  123. I searched, "How do I overcome
    the fear of rejection?"

  124. I came up with a bunch
    of psychology articles
  125. about where the fear
    and pain are coming from.
  126. Then I came up with a bunch
    of "rah-rah" inspirational articles
  127. about "Don't take it personally,
    just overcome it."
  128. Who doesn't know that?
  129. (Laughter)

  130. But why was I still so scared?

  131. Then I found this website by luck.
  132. It's called rejectiontherapy.com.
  133. (Laughter)

  134. "Rejection Therapy" was this game
    invented by this Canadian entrepreneur.

  135. His name is Jason Comely.
  136. And basically the idea is for 30 days
    you go out and look for rejection,
  137. and every day get rejected at something,
  138. and then by the end,
    you desensitize yourself from the pain.
  139. And I loved that idea.
  140. (Laughter)

  141. I said, "You know what?
    I'm going to do this.

  142. And I'll feel myself
    getting rejected 100 days."
  143. And I came up with my own rejection ideas,
  144. and I made a video blog out of it.
  145. And so here's what I did.

  146. This is what the blog looked like.
  147. Day One ...
  148. (Laughter)

  149. Borrow 100 dollars from a stranger.

  150. So this is where I went
    to where I was working.
  151. I came downstairs
  152. and I saw this big guy
    sitting behind a desk.
  153. He looked like a security guard.
  154. So I just approached him.
  155. And I was just walking
  156. and that was the longest
    walk of my life --
  157. hair on the back
    of my neck standing up,
  158. I was sweating and my heart was pounding.
  159. And I got there and said,
  160. "Hey, sir, can I borrow
    100 dollars from you?"
  161. (Laughter)

  162. And he looked up, he's like, "No."

  163. "Why?"
  164. And I just said, "No? I'm sorry."

  165. Then I turned around,
    and I just ran.
  166. (Laughter)

  167. I felt so embarrassed.

  168. But because I filmed myself --
  169. so that night I was watching
    myself getting rejected,
  170. I just saw how scared I was.
  171. I looked like this kid
    in "The Sixth Sense."
  172. I saw dead people.
  173. (Laughter)

  174. But then I saw this guy.

  175. You know, he wasn't that menacing.
  176. He was a chubby, loveable guy,
  177. and he even asked me, "Why?"
  178. In fact, he invited me to explain myself.
  179. And I could've said many things.
  180. I could've explained,
    I could've negotiated.
  181. I didn't do any of that.
  182. All I did was run.
  183. I felt, wow, this is like
    a microcosm of my life.
  184. Every time I felt the slightest rejection,
  185. I would just run as fast as I could.
  186. And you know what?
  187. The next day, no matter what happens,
  188. I'm not going to run.
  189. I'll stay engaged.
  190. Day Two: Request a "burger refill."

  191. (Laughter)

  192. It's when I went to a burger joint,

  193. I finished lunch,
    and I went to the cashier and said,
  194. "Hi, can I get a burger refill?"
  195. (Laughter)

  196. He was all confused,
    like, "What's a burger refill?"

  197. (Laughter)

  198. I said, "Well, it's just like
    a drink refill but with a burger."

  199. And he said, "Sorry,
    we don't do burger refill, man."
  200. (Laughter)

  201. So this is where rejection happened
    and I could have run, but I stayed.

  202. I said, "Well, I love your burgers,
  203. I love your joint,
  204. and if you guys do a burger refill,
  205. I will love you guys more."
  206. (Laughter)

  207. And he said, "Well, OK,
    I'll tell my manager about it,

  208. and maybe we'll do it,
    but sorry, we can't do this today."
  209. Then I left.
  210. And by the way,
  211. I don't think they've
    ever done burger refill.
  212. (Laughter)

  213. I think they're still there.

  214. But the life and death feeling
    I was feeling the first time
  215. was no longer there,
  216. just because I stayed engaged --
  217. because I didn't run.
  218. I said, "Wow, great,
    I'm already learning things.
  219. Great."
  220. And then Day Three:
    Getting Olympic Doughnuts.

  221. This is where my life
    was turned upside down.
  222. I went to a Krispy Kreme.
  223. It's a doughnut shop
  224. in mainly the Southeastern part
    of the United States.
  225. I'm sure they have some here, too.
  226. And I went in,
  227. I said, "Can you make me doughnuts
    that look like Olympic symbols?
  228. Basically, you interlink
    five doughnuts together ... "
  229. I mean there's no way
    they could say yes, right?
  230. The doughnut maker took me so seriously.
  231. (Laughter)

  232. So she put out paper,

  233. started jotting down
    the colors and the rings,
  234. and is like, "How can I make this?"
  235. And then 15 minutes later,
  236. she came out with a box
    that looked like Olympic rings.
  237. And I was so touched.
  238. I just couldn't believe it.
  239. And that video got
    over five million views on Youtube.
  240. The world couldn't believe that either.
  241. (Laughter)

  242. You know, because of that
    I was in newspapers,

  243. in talk shows, in everything.
  244. And I became famous.
  245. A lot of people
    started writing emails to me
  246. and saying, "What you're
    doing is awesome."
  247. But you know, fame and notoriety
    did not do anything to me.
  248. What I really wanted to do was learn,
  249. and to change myself.
  250. So I turned the rest
    of my 100 days of rejection
  251. into this playground --
  252. into this research project.
  253. I wanted to see what I could learn.
  254. And then I learned a lot of things.

  255. I discovered so many secrets.
  256. For example, I found if I just don't run,
  257. if I got rejected,
  258. I could actually turn a "no" into a "yes,"
  259. and the magic word is, "why."
  260. So one day I went to a stranger's house,
    I had this flower in my hand,

  261. knocked on the door and said,
  262. "Hey, can I plant this flower
    in your backyard?"
  263. (Laughter)

  264. And he said, "No."

  265. But before he could leave I said,
  266. "Hey, can I know why?"
  267. And he said, "Well, I have this dog
  268. that would dig up
    anything I put in the backyard.
  269. I don't want to waste your flower.
  270. If you want to do this,
    go across the street and talk to Connie.
  271. She loves flowers."
  272. So that's what I did.
  273. I went across and knocked
    on Connie's door.
  274. And she was so happy to see me.
  275. (Laughter)

  276. And then half an hour later,

  277. there was this flower
    in Connie's backyard.
  278. I'm sure it looks better now.
  279. (Laughter)

  280. But had I left
    after the initial rejection,

  281. I would've thought,
  282. well, it's because
    the guy didn't trust me,
  283. it's because I was crazy,
  284. because I didn't dress up well,
    I didn't look good.
  285. It was none of those.
  286. It was because what I offered
    did not fit what he wanted.
  287. And he trusted me enough
    to offer me a referral,
  288. using a sales term.
  289. I converted a referral.
  290. Then one day --

  291. and I also learned that I can
    actually say certain things
  292. and maximize my chance to get a yes.
  293. So for example,
    one day I went to a Starbucks,
  294. and asked the manager,
    "Hey, can I be a Starbucks greeter?"
  295. He was like, "What's a Starbucks greeter?"
  296. I said, "Do you know
    those Walmart greeters?
  297. You know, those people who say
    'hi' to you before you walk in the store,
  298. and make sure you
    don't steal stuff, basically?
  299. I want to give a Walmart experience
    to Starbucks customers."
  300. (Laughter)

  301. Well, I'm not sure
    that's a good thing, actually --

  302. Actually, I'm pretty sure
    it's a bad thing.
  303. And he was like, "Oh" --
  304. yeah, this is how he looked,
    his name is Eric --
  305. and he was like, "I'm not sure."
  306. This is how he was hearing me. "Not sure."
  307. Then I ask him, "Is that weird?"
  308. He's like, "Yeah, it's really weird, man."
  309. But as soon as he said that,
    his whole demeanor changed.
  310. It's as if he's putting
    all the doubt on the floor.
  311. And he said, "Yeah, you can do this,
  312. just don't get too weird."
  313. (Laughter)

  314. So for the next hour
    I was the Starbucks greeter.

  315. I said "hi" to every customer
    that walked in,
  316. and gave them holiday cheers.
  317. By the way, I don't know
    what your career trajectory is,
  318. don't be a greeter.
  319. (Laughter)

  320. It was really boring.

  321. But then I found I could do this
    because I mentioned, "Is that weird?"
  322. I mentioned the doubt that he was having.
  323. And because I mentioned, "Is that weird?",
    that means I wasn't weird.
  324. That means I was actually
    thinking just like him,
  325. seeing this as a weird thing.
  326. And again, and again,
  327. I learned that if I mention
    some doubt people might have
  328. before I ask the question,
  329. I gained their trust.
  330. People were more likely to say yes to me.
  331. And then I learned
    I could fulfill my life dream ...

  332. by asking.
  333. You know, I came
    from four generations of teachers,
  334. and my grandma has always told me,
  335. "Hey Jia, you can do anything you want,
  336. but it'd be great
    if you became a teacher."
  337. (Laughter)

  338. But I wanted to be
    an entrepreneur, so I didn't.

  339. But it has always been my dream
    to actually teach something.
  340. So I said, "What if I just ask
  341. and teach a college class?"
  342. I lived in Austin at the time,
  343. so I went to University
    of Texas at Austin
  344. and knocked on professors' doors
    and said, "Can I teach your class?"
  345. I didn't get anywhere
    the first couple of times.
  346. But because I didn't run --
    I kept doing it --
  347. and on the third try
    the professor was very impressed.
  348. He was like, "No one
    has done this before."
  349. And I came in prepared
    with powerpoints and my lesson.
  350. He said, "Wow, I can use this.
  351. Why don't you come back in two months?
    I'll fit you in my curriculum."
  352. And two months later
    I was teaching a class.
  353. This is me -- you probably can't see,
    this is a bad picture.

  354. You know, sometimes you get
    rejected by lighting, you know?
  355. (Laughter)

  356. But wow --

  357. when I finished teaching that class,
    I walked out crying,
  358. because I thought
  359. I could fulfill my life dream
    just by simply asking.
  360. I used to think I have to accomplish
    all these things --
  361. have to be a great entrepreneur,
    or get a PhD to teach --
  362. but no, I just asked,
  363. and I could teach.
  364. And in that picture,
    which you can't see,

  365. I quoted Martin Luther King, Jr.
  366. Why? Because in my research I found
    that people who really change the world,
  367. who change the way we live
    and the way we think,
  368. are the people who were met
    with initial and often violent rejections.
  369. People like Martin Luther King, Jr.,
  370. like Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela,
  371. or even Jesus Christ.
  372. These people did not
    let rejection define them.
  373. They let their own reaction
    after rejection define themselves.
  374. And they embraced rejection.
  375. And we don't have to be those people
    to learn about rejection,

  376. and in my case,
  377. rejection was my curse,
  378. was my boogeyman.
  379. It has bothered me my whole life
    because I was running away from it.
  380. Then I started embracing it.
  381. I turned that into
    the biggest gift in my life.
  382. I started teaching people
    how to turn rejections into opportunities.
  383. I use my blog, I use my talk,
  384. I use the book I just published,
  385. and I'm even building technology to help
    people overcome their fear of rejection.
  386. When you get rejected in life,

  387. when you are facing the next obstacle
  388. or next failure,
  389. consider the possibilities.
  390. Don't run.
  391. If you just embrace them,
  392. they might become your gifts as well.
  393. Thank you.

  394. (Applause)