I have a confession to make. I despise rejection. No really, I hate hearing "no." Inevitably I regard a "no" as a personal rejection. My internal critic goes into overdrive to help things along, letting me know that the reason I was told "no," is because I'm a piece of sh*t (my internal critic is pretty profane) and that the best way to deal with "no" is to just not ask in the first place.
I suspect that I'm not alone in this feeling. At least I hope I'm not (my internal critic says that I am, but I'm trying to get the critic to just shut up once in a while). I think that's another reason that I hate rejection--I assume that I'm the only person who feels this way. That in fact of everyone in the entire universe, I've been singled out for "no" because of my unique constellation of personality characteristics and short-comings. Obviously if I was someone else, I would have been given a "yes," right?
This fear of rejection is a dangerous thing for me, particularly given that I am self-employed, making my living consulting to government and non-profit agencies and must hear "no" a fair amount of the time. ("No, although we'd love to do what you suggest, we just don't have the a) the funding, b) the people, c) the resources or d) all of the above.") Even if I'm given perfectly legitimate reasons for the "no," I still have a tendency to suspect it's because they think my suggestion sucks or that I'm an idiot. Or both.
I'm thinking about this today for a few reasons. Earlier this week I had a very nice e-mail from Barry Schwartz thanking me for posting about his book, The Paradox of Choice. I was flattered that he would take the time to send me an e-mail and wrote back to thank him for responding. We had a brief, pleasant e-mail exchange and then I moved on. But throughout the day, I kept thinking about how I'd love to do a an e-mail interview with him to post here. Just ask him a few more questions about his book and where his research is taking him now.
Some people would, without thinking, send the man a quick e-mail and see if he'd be interested. But for me, the fear of rejection becomes a huge stumbling block. Despite the fact that if he said no, it would probably be because of time constraints or a policy of not doing this or whatever, I still would think that he thought I was an idiot and that's why he said no. (You'll notice that I also walk into it believing that he WOULD say "no." The possibility of "yes," is very far in the distance for me).
This got me thinking in general about my really dysfunctional relationship with "no." And then I started thinking about how, despite my belief that I'm the only one who takes rejection personally, I think a lot of other people are held back by their fear of "no." Which got me thinking about how it's easier for me to do things to help others than to help myself, so maybe I should try a little experiment with "no" and share the results here to see what happens when you court rejection by taking some risks you wouldn't normally take. Which led me to the Rejection Experiment.
So here's my plan. For the next month, I'm going to try seeking out rejection. I'm going to try to innoculate myself against my No-phobia by going against my instincts and actually going after rejection. (Basically I'll be doing a George Costanza, hopefully with similarly good results, although I don't need a girlfriend, a job with the Yankees or to move out of my parents' house).
In my case this means that for 30 days I will ask the questions that come into my head, I will pursue the opportunities that come my way, rather than talking myself out of them and I will say the things that I usually tell myself I should have the good sense to keep quiet about. I will share the results here, hoping that my experiences help others who have a similarly dysfunctional relationship with rejection.
I considered doing this for a week, rather than a month. But then I decided that it was my fear talking and that if I want to really do something to change my no-phobia, I need to tackle this for a longer period of time. So a month it is.
So let the Experiment begin. And I'm going to start with Barry. Either way we win on this--we either get to read his e-mail Q&A or we get to see how I deal with rejection. A win-win proposition, right?