Rethinking Rejection

I listened to Jia Jiang do an inspiring Ted talk while painting in my studio and ordered his book, “Rejection Proof” from the library.   I enjoyed reading about Jiang’s 100 day experiment where he sought out, some hilarious, some painful rejections to overcome his extreme fear of asking for something he wanted.

I learned a few valuable things from Jiang.  First that JK Rowling’s Harry Potter was rejected by every publisher in Britain before the head of Bloombury’s own granddaughter couldn’t put the book down.  They published it a year later and Harry Potter went on to be one of the number 10 bestsellers of all time.  Jiang decided “rejection has a number”, meaning you just have to ask enough times.  Every book may not be good enough to be published, but it makes you wonder how many good books may not have gotten published because they didn’t reach the magic number of rejections.  

Researchers have discovered that the reason we avoid rejection is biological.  The response in our brains to rejection is the same as pain, so the memory of a painful rejection is likely going to make us avoid rejections in the future.  So much for “just don’t take it personally”.  Jiang finds ways to make rejection feel less awful, like finding humour in the situation – studies have shown that laughter increases our pain tolerance dramatically.

Other valuable lessons Jiang learned in his 100 days of asking things such as: if he could plant a flower in a stranger’s garden, or if he could buy donuts shaped as Olympic rings – is that a person’s mood, their circumstances at the moment or upbringing, are probably influencing their opinion more strongly than your personal request, personality or presentation.  Jiang found if he stuck around to ask why he got a rejection, the reason was usually one he could not have guessed.  He also learned he was more likely to get people to accept his requests  if he explained why he wanted something and of course, was friendly.

I’ve received probably 50-100 rejection letters over the years from art galleries, universities or artist residencies (there were a few acceptances sprinkled in there).   These rejections didn’t cause me to give up painting or to think I was a terrible artist, I just eventually decided maybe there’s another way to do this. The  plans you may have been automatically following may have been what society or others expected of you and actually did not fit your particular situation or personality.  Or, another lesson from Jiang, the higher the number of rejections you receive, may simply be a marker of how much you want something.

Jiang reports on a study that reveals no matter how much people say they love creativity, they actually fear it because it presents a level of uncertainty and disrupts order and rules.  Look at Galileo who spent his life under house arrest for believing the earth revolved around the sun or artists such as Van Gogh who didn’t sell any paintings in their life time, yet they sold for millions years later.  Presently this reminds me of the idea of moving the economy to clean energy…it’s something new and scary – so very hard to change.  Lucky many artists and thinkers didn’t let their fear of rejection stop them from getting their ideas, knowledge and creativity out there.

04. April 2017 by Tracy Kobus
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