Busting fear and defeating rejection in the classroom

Rejection can be crippling. It can cause us to forgo our aspirations. Owning rejection can help us overcome it. (Flickr / Cubmundo)

Rejection can be crippling. It can cause us to forgo our aspirations. Owning rejection can help us overcome it. (Flickr / Cubmundo)

Jia Jiang had big plans. Growing up in China, he wanted to be the next Bill Gates — an entrepreneur who changed the world.

As a 14-year-old, he saw Bill Gates speak live in Beijing and was inspired. So he eventually moved to the United States and pursued the American dream.

Jia started to pursue his dream of running his own business a little later in life and quit his job four days after his first child was born. He found that striking out on his own was tougher than he expected and he kept experiencing the same thing — rejection.

Rejection can be paralyzing. It can stop us from attempting great life changes or smaller life-changing decisions.

Personally, rejection is one of my top irrational fears. I tell myself, “What’s the worst they can say — no?”, but I’m still gripped by it and it usually leads to inaction.

That’s what fascinated me so much about what Jia did to beat rejection, as he described it in the TED Talk below: he sought it out. He looked for ways to get rejected — for 100 days.

His goal was to confront his fear of rejection head-on by seeking it out. For 100 days, he put himself in situations where he thought someone would reject him. He took video of each one, posted them on his website, fearbuster.com, and wrote about the experience:

He asked a random security guard for a $100 loan.

He knocked on a stranger’s door and asked to play soccer in his back yard.

He requested a burger refill at a restaurant. (You get drink refills … why not a burger, too?)

He had a breakthrough at a Krispy Kreme doughnut store. Jia asked a worker to make him a replica of the Olympic rings using doughnuts. To his surprise, she said “yes” and made him the Olympic rings — for free.

The experience made him realize that he had missed out on countless opportunities because of his fear of rejection … because he never even asked.

Jia’s experience makes me think about my own as an educator. Most of us in education are dream chasers, wanting to change the world for our students and through our students. I’m no exception.

What if I acted on some of my enormous ideas? What if I asked for funding for a new after-school program? There’s a good chance I might get a “no” answer. But I might get a “yes”.

Teacher Don Wettrick took this to the next level. He sought approval for a new class called “Innovations,” where students pursued projects they were passionate about full-time. He developed plans for the class and took it to leaders at his school.

They said “no”.

He kept going as if they had said “yes”.

He lined up high-profile mentors at Stanford University and in business and revisited the idea with leaders again. It was an opportunity they couldn’t refuse. So they eventually said “yes”. Don’s course has yielded innovative ideas, events and products. His students have had life-changing experiences they couldn’t have in other classes.

Don’s classes have been a huge success, all because he wasn’t afraid of rejection and didn’t take “no” for an answer.

I liken my fear of rejection to a hole in a wall I’m trying to fit through. Most people would look at the size of the hole and say, “There’s no way I can get through it,” and they’d give up.

If the hole is really worth getting through, I should find a way. It might mean squeezing through, which could be uncomfortable and painful. It might mean chipping away at the hole to make it bigger, possibly ruffling someone’s feathers in in the process.

But in the end, discomfort, pain and ruffled feathers are worthwhile if the result is huge gains for ourselves or our students.

Rejection doesn’t have to be paralyzing. It can be liberating.

Question: How have you pushed past your fear of rejection to reach something worthwhile? What do you want to achieve that’s being limited by your fear of rejection? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

  • Siggghhhh I can so relate to this and you and your thoughts. This is one of my…if not my top goal for this year. To own my ideas and their worth. Then go big, share more, be brave. Ignore the doubt and go forward like each opportunity is an opportunity for a yes. I can’t wait to watch the TEDTalk. What a great way to start a Thursday! Also, I love the new header design!!!

  • Ruth Davis says:

    Fear can, in fact, be crippling. I am thankful for the laughs and lessons this post has prompted. Thanks for sharing.

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  • Laurie Doran says:

    Very timely thoughts as Apple just sent out rejections to ADE applicants, mine included. I will now rewatch my AED application video to remind myself of all the amazing things that happen in my classroom, lick my wounds of rejection and focus on the road ahead. Thanks for all you do to inspire others.

  • Ken Keene says:

    “A body at rest tends to remain at rest,” or so the rule of physics suggests. Rejection should not be taken as a personal affront. Rather, rejection is most often the direct result of the application of the aforementioned rule. Unless an audience has gathered for the express purpose of making a change, the members will tend to decline rather than accept a call for action.

    Rarely should rejection be taken personally. Post-rejection analysis will reveal either flaws in the presentation itself or flaws in the audience’s perception of the presentation. Both of these situations offer an opportunity for correction. Perhaps one needs to adjust his/her presentation in order to adjust the perception of the audience. Or perhaps one needs to adjust the audience to whom one is making the presentation. In either case, rejection has a positive element in that it provides a result to which we can react in a constructive way to improve our future presentation(s).

  • Michele says:

    This is such a powerful post Matt! It has really made me think of how many instances in my life, both professionally and privately, that I have kept myself small for fear of rejection. I’m making a resolution to myself now to be aware of my thoughts for the next week and actually ask for what I want. Thanks for the inspiration 🙂

  • What a great message!!! Of course taking a real chance means it might be rejected. BUT it also might be approved – and then the fireworks can happen.

    And, as with Don Wettrick, the rush of the pushing beyond the fear of rejection motivates the push to success!!!