No one likes rejection. It hurts, for starters, and it can be mortifying when you put yourself on the line, only to be turned away with your tail between your legs. So why would anyone go out of their way to seek rejection?
As your typical people-pleasing yes-woman who goes out of her way to ensure the comfort of those around her to the point of struggling to take a seat on a half-empty train (yes, I am working on this with my therapist), the thought of trying to be rejected instantly curdles my insides.
So you can imagine my surprise when I stumbled across a TikTok community of people committing to getting rejected intentionally. The hashtag #rejectiontherapy has almost four million views and features people approaching strangers with absurd requests, ranging from using store intercoms to make an announcement to asking for a ride in a fire truck.
While it’s a fun, month-long challenge for some, others are treating it as part of exposure therapy for their irrational fear of rejection.
The phenomenon was created back in 2019 by Canadian Jason Comely, who came up with a card game with dare prompts that players had to complete. Cards included asking a friend to do your laundry, asking a stranger if they like your shoes, and asking for a discount before purchasing something. “Just get out there and get rejected, and sometimes it's going to get dirty,” he told NPR. “But that's ok, 'cause you're going to feel great after, you're going to feel like, 'Wow. I disobeyed fear.’”
The idea gained global traction after entrepreneur Jia Jiang embarked on a 100 days of rejection challenge, documenting his time on a video blog, which later grew to a book, business, a TEDx Talk, and an app. From a six-year-old crippled by classroom rejection, Jia grew into a confident man unafraid of asking a stranger if he could borrow $100 and asking random people to rate his appearance, to fulfilling his life’s goal of teaching a college class — just by asking a professor.
Over the month-long period, you start to see the change in these TikTokers’ eyes. Approaching strangers evolves from a heart-pounding, anxiety-inducing exercise, to one that’s met with curiosity and excitement.
There are many benefits to this challenge that can quell the long-term effects that rejection can create. Feelings of rejection can often contribute to pre-existing conditions like depression, anxiety and stress, according to Good Therapy. By rewriting the narrative of rejection, people can start to unwind the binds that it previously held.
Approaching strangers evolves from a heart-pounding, anxiety-inducing exercise, to one that’s met with curiosity and excitement.
One TikTok video with over 300,000 likes simply put it as, “Doing things that embarrass or scare you on purpose… helps you not take life so serious [sic]. It is a powerful life tool to not take rejections personally.”
Jia Jiang agrees. It’s not actually about the rejection; it’s how you respond to it that matters. “Let [your] own reaction after rejection define [you]. Embrace rejection. Don't run,” he says.
Getting over the fear of rejection can embolden you to step outside of your comfort zone. Even if you're not quite ready to challenge a stranger to a race (which yes, Jia did), you can carry the pillars of rejection therapy with you in your everyday interactions.
For me, that looks like not wishing that the ground would swallow me up whenever anyone rejects a minor request. It means standing my ground, taking a deep breath, smiling, and replying, "that's ok."