Most people are afraid of rejection. Jia Jiang embraces it.
In the last month, the 31-year-old entrepreneur has developed a sizeable Internet following thanks to his various failings. Everyday Jiang, a Chinese native, uploads a video to his YouTube channel that shows him making a crazy request.
He’s tried to be a human mannequin for Abercrombie & Fitch, asked a local news anchor live on television if he can do the morning weather report, and got jiggy with a dancing Santa.
It’s all part of a project he calls “100 Days of Rejection Therapy,”a personal effort to find “hope from nope.”
“My goal is to desensitize myself from the pain of rejection and overcome my fear,” Jiang wrote on his blog detailing the project.
Jiang wasn’t always afraid of rejection. In December 2009, he proposed to his now-wife in front of hundreds of people at a cultural talent show held at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business, where the couple received masters in business administration. (A video of his proposal is currently on YouTube.)
The couple moved to Austin, Texas, to work for computer giant Dell. It was good money—they were both independently earning close to six figures in annual salary—but Jiang wasn’t entirely satisfied. He felt like he was meant for something greater, that his time would be better spent building his own company.
“I had a big disagreement with my wife, who was pregnant at the time,” he told the Daily Dot. “The baby was about to be born, but I told her ‘If I don’t do this now, it’s going to be difficult for me to be an entrepreneur.’”
After various contentious conversations, Jiang’s wife gave him six months to follow his dreams. Three days before his child was born, Jia Jiang quit his job. He announced his decision at his wife’s baby shower, in front of his friends.
“At the day of the baby shower, I told everyone that I had quit Dell. I did it because I wanted to hold myself accountable. It was a good way to have people know that I was seriously trying to do this. I put pressure on myself because I really wanted to succeed.”
Free to pursue his dreams, Jiang assembled a team of engineers. They started building various applications, finally settling on Hooplus, a social app that aims at helping individuals keep their promises.
“Users will be able to send and requests promises to each other and acknowledge them when they are fulfilled,” reads the app’s description. “The percentage of execution will translate into a trust/execution score for app users.”
With a promising product at hand, Jiang and his team started approaching potential investors.
In mid-November 2012, Hooplus scored a big interview with a key investor group. A successful meeting would have resulted in the company taking a major step forward. Jiang and his team prepared exhaustively for the meeting, hoping to propel Hooplus through sheer determination.
“I dreamed of it coming through,” Jiang said. “ I had five separate dreams where we gave our presentation, and at the end we would be shaking hands. We would get the money.”
For all his optimism, the investment group passed. The rejection was a serious blow to Jiang’s confidence.
“It made me want to give up,” he admitted. “I thought, ‘I tried this hard, and I worked on that pitch for weeks and weeks.’ To be turned down like that, I felt like I didn’t want to do this anymore.”
Despite the hackneyed nature of the adage, Jiang felt that a window was opened when that particular door was closed.
“The Chinese [Mandarin] word for crisis translates into English as ‘danger plus opportunity.’ I thought, ‘where is the opportunity here?’ How could I use this disaster to improve myself?”
Jiang was not about to wallow in self-pity. Eventually, he came across rejection therapy, a social self-help game invented by Jason Comely that employs the psychotherapeutic technique of flooding—constantly exposing oneself to a feared stimulus—to gradually reduce the dread.
“I thought this concept was kind of cool, and I’ve always considered myself a fun-loving guy, so I decided to do it,” Jiang said. “I knew that I needed to get stronger and tougher. Even if I don’t become a successful entrepreneur, I felt like doing this was going to make me a better person.”
His first quest for rejection was a successful. Jiang approached a security guard at a hotel lobby and asked him to borrow $100. Predictably, the man responded with a no and a look that left little to interpretation.
“I had no idea how he was going to react,” Jiang told me two weeks after the incident. “As soon as he gave me what I was looking for, I just scurried away. I was afraid that he was going to shoot me.”
For his third video challenge, Jiang walked into a local Krispy Kreme store to ask that they reproduce the Olympic symbol with donuts. He was expecting yet another rejection. Instead, he met Jackie.
Jackie, the shift leader working that particular day, was initially perplexed by Jiang’s request. Instead of rejecting him, however, she went to the back of the store and emerged 15 minutes later holding a box of donuts linked together and frosted in the colors of the Olympic symbol. When Jiang tried to pay for them, Jackie refused, claiming that it wasn’t perfect and therefore she couldn’t charge him. It was one of the better documentations of amazing customer service.
A few days later, thanks to Reddit, the video went viral. As of this writing, the post has received 3,066 karma points and 1,324 comments, the bulk of them extolling Jackie for her actions.
“Made me feel all warm and fuzzy inside. I sent the link to Krispy Kreme, hopefully she'll get some sort of recognition for her kind act,” wrote user synakus.
The video, which now has more than 5 million views on YouTube, also made it to the front page of Yahoo. It has earned Jackie much deserved recognition from corporate headquarters, and it brought a large audience to Jiang’s self-imposed challenge.
“I was surprised by its popularity,” Jiang recalled. “I was in a Dallas at a coffee shop, waiting for my wife to finish an exam. My phone started going crazy. It ran out of power because of how much it was vibrating because of the Twitter follows and friend requests I was getting. It was a crazy day.”
Since then, Jiang has learned how to handle rejection better. He told me that after two weeks, he wasn’t as phased by getting turned down. In fact, he often follows up now by asking the subject why his request was rejected—a process that demystifies the refusal and opens the possibility for a change of course.
With each new challenge and video, followers have watched Jiang become more confident and satisfied.
Last week, I witnessed it firsthand.
I had asked Jiang to tag along for one of his rejection challenges. The original plan was for him to go to a mattress store and ask someone if he could take a 15-minute nap there, but for whatever reason he chose to scrap that idea.
Disappointed, I followed him to a coffee shop close by for the interview. After talking to him for about an hour, and emboldened and motivated by his story, I asked him if he could do another rejection video on the spot. Without much hesitation, Jiang obliged. His challenge was to approach the young and amiable barista and ask if he could go behind the counter so that she could teach him how to make her favorite coffee beverage.
He confidently walked over to the counter and made his request. I was sitting a good 15 feet away, cringing and think that the barista would feel like he was hitting on her.
But I was wrong. The barista happily let Jiang behind the counter and walked him through the process of making a Chai tea latte.
Afterwards, as we were walking back to our respective cars, I asked him if he was afraid.
“Yeah, I’m afraid, but not of having a girl say no to me. I’m confident but with real fear. Real fear is being afraid of failure, of having to go back to work. This? It’s not that big of a deal.”
He told me that the biggest lesson he’s learned is to not equate a rejection of a request with a rejection of oneself.
“I hear a lot of ‘no’s now, which I’m OK with.”
Screengrab via YouTube