Six weeks ago, a girl I met through my full-time job told me she planned to come to take my class at BODYROK. I had been teaching for well over six months, but all I could think was: what will she think of me as a teacher? What will she think of the studio? What will she think of the class? It has to be perfect.
As I tried to calm myself down and disregard my thoughts as fleeting moments of neurosis, something took me back to high school. “What if the cool kids don’t like me?”
Even at 28, with five years of therapy under my belt, I knew that there was no reason for me to worry about anyone else’s judgement of my craft as a teacher. (Cue Eleanor Roosevelt, “no one can make you feel inferior without your consent”… thanks Princess Mia for that one). And yet, I couldn’t shake this anxiety.
So I choreographed a knockout class, the best I could manage, and she loved it, she raved about it, she even joined as a member at my studio. But this episode had me shaken – why did I care so much? Why?! Why?! Why?!
Why humans reject rejection
As a self-proclaimed extrovert, I am the stereotypical friend who badgers the others to stand up to friends and lovers, to insist on a raise or promotion, to demand to be seen and heard. Given that, it surprises a lot of people that I get hung up on the opinions of others. From the day I quit basketball in 7th grade after being the worst on the travel team, to the time I decided I didn’t want to work for a Big Three consulting firm after horrifically botching a case interview, when rejection comes knocking, I pivot away instead of leaning into it.
As it turns out, belonging is an evolutionary skill, so it’s not our fault when we feel this way. Our ancestors learned that in order to remain safe and avoid pain, community was relevant and necessary. We hide from rejection because appearing similar and like-minded to others protects our physical wellbeing. But being the Type A person that I am, that wasn’t going to bring me solace. I refused to accept this human fallibility (lol and maybe I’m a little dramatic).
How I’ll face my fear of rejection
So I thought back to my dear friend Jeana Anderson Cohen’s recent Brave Sunday newsletter detailing a NYT writer who set out to receive 100 rejections in a single year to prove to herself that it wasn’t so bad. In reading all I could about this author, I also found Jia J, who took on outlandish rejections in order to re-write the rejection he faced as a 6-year old boy.
When Jia started out, his first rejection was asking a stranger to borrow $100. While his re-telling in his TED talk will make you giggle, I wanted to dive into the weeds right away. The real stuff – the stuff where someone may actually say yes. A thing that I may actually want – whereas, I wouldn’t ever actually think to ask a stranger for $100.
As I sketched out what my challenge could look, I asked my friends and family, too. I told them that I wanted to recreate these “rejection therapy” missional experiences. I told them that my 2020 BHAG was to face rejection head-on and master this fear of other people’s judgement. That I wanted to make 2020 the year of 100 rejections. Some loved it, some were utterly confused. Mainly, people have asked why I would want to be rejected that many times. When I told my mom that I planned to write publicly about it, she told me I should use a pseudonym.
And then, my first theory was proven. People abhor rejection. It makes people feel vulnerable, squeamish, exposed. It was hard to understand why a person would “seek” rejection – ever.
More, it forced me to qualify my crazy idea to these people: the point wasn’t to seek rejection in a self-loathing manner; the point is to “aim” for rejection and realize how often acceptance is what comes instead. It’s also to realize that the sting of rejection is NOT that bad after all and that life goes on just as soon as you let it. Not to mention, even as I’ve prepared for this experiment, it’s occurred to me how often I reject myself before anyone else can. When we don’t put ourselves out there, we are rejecting ourselves – I am my own worst enemy. Lesson 1: stop rejecting myself before others have the chance to.
The details of my rejection challenge
And so here I am, proclaiming to all the readers of asweatlife.com that you are here to keep me accountable in 2020. In exchange, I promise to share all my lessons and all the most excruciating (and hopefully hilarious) stories of rejection. As the Type A protagonist of my life, I’ve tried to make this a story that’s easy to follow by categorizing buckets of “rejection”: dating, work, family/friends, and passion projects.
These categories may look different in your life – that’s okay! My demons (or “opportunities for growth” as the glass-half-full side of my personality insists) don’t have to match yours. Though when I took to the streets (aka, when I asked my girlfriends in Chicago), dating came up time, and time, and time again. Okay, note taken – we will tackle dating.
But I want this exercise to have more meaning than just dating. And so, we will make this broad, but targeted. See below for the handy-dandy chart outlining my planned “rejections” – broken by totals and also monthly.
NOW FOR THE GRAND FINALE: send me your rejection ideas! One hundred seems daunting – like for real! And I have to ask six people on dates a month to stay on track (so if you don’t have any rejection ideas, maybe send me your single male friends)!
The real down low
- BHAG? Conquer fear of other people’s judgement
- How? Get rejected 100 times between January 1, 2020 – December 31, 2020
- Where? Monthly on asweatlife.com
- Means? Dating, work, family/friends, passion project
- How can you help? Send your best ideas in the comment of this blog post or on Instagram @jmlfitlife, and follow my attempts to get rejected with #2020RejectionChallenge!