How to Overcome the Fear of Rejection: The Successful Rejection Experience

by Jonathan Robinson, MA, MFT

When I was seventeen, I was very shy - especially with attractive women my own age. By the time I was a freshman in college, I had only been on two dates. Driven by teen-age hormones, I really wanted to meet and go out with some women, but I was terrified of being rejected.

My fear was like a prison, keeping me locked away in self-imposed loneliness. One day, I vowed I would overcome my fear. I decided that the only way I was going to become free of my fear was to plow my way through it. I enlisted the help of a good friend to make sure I had the motivation to face my fright head on.

I gave my friend $50 and told him, "Don't give me this money back unless I get rejected by ten different women by the end of today." I figured that by experiencing ten rejections, I would know what it felt like and my fear would lessen. The money I gave to my friend would help me stay motivated to complete my mission.

I strolled down to the University Center to seek out attractive women. As I approached the first woman, sweat was literally dripping from my forehead. My knees began shaking, and as I said "hello," my voice cracked. When the teen-age girl turned and saw me shaking and sweating, she worriedly asked, "Are you all right? Do you need me to call an ambulance?"

She thought I was having an epileptic seizure. I assured her she didn't need to call an ambulance, and that I'd soon be okay. A brief, awkward conversation ensued before I finally mumbled, "Would you like to go out together sometime?" In a kind voice she responded that she had a boyfriend, but that she was flattered that I had asked.

As we parted ways, I took out an index card from my pocket and marked down one rejection. Then, as I thought, "Only nine more to go," I began to breathe again.

Fortunately, each rejection got easier. In fact, I soon noticed that the women I spoke to seemed more nervous than I. My rejections were proceeding rapidly and smoothly until the seventh woman I approached. When I asked her for a date, she said, "Sure." I hadn't thought of the possibility of someone saying "Yes," so I said, "Sure what?"

She finally convinced me she really wanted to go out with me. I wrote down her number, and in a state of happy amazement, soon asked another woman for a date. To my surprise, she also said "Yes." By this time, I was feeling totally at ease while I asked women out, and they frequently responded by giving me their phone number.

In fact, after a while I had so many dates that I had to begin acting like a jerk in order to fill my quota of ten rejections (and get my $50 bucks back). After I had received eight phone numbers from various women, I managed to get my tenth rejection. In one magical hour I set up my love life for my freshman year and put a big dent in my fear of rejection.

From this experience I surmised that the key to overcoming one's fear of rejection is to set it up so that getting rejected is seen as a success. My actual goal was to get ten rejections, and only by doing so would I be rewarded by getting my money back. As I faced my fear, I saw that it wasn't so bad. I could survive.

Since I was fully prepared for what would happen, it didn't seem like a big deal anymore. I noticed that with each and every rejection, it got easier. In addition, as my fear went away and I became more relaxed, I was often rewarded with an unexpected "yes."

Perhaps there is some area in your life in which the fear of rejection has kept you from moving forward. Maybe you've made success too important. Instead, try rewarding yourself for just making an effort and getting a "no." For example, you might decide to get three "no" responses to your sales calls each day, or one "no" per week from potential dates. My guess is that you'll survive. In fact, you'll probably get some unexpected "yes" responses along the way.

If doing an exercise like this strikes you as too difficult or scary, then you're probably a good candidate for it. To make it a bit easier for you, you can begin by asking someone to lunch who would not normally be your first choice for a date. After all, if they say "no," it won't matter to you so much.

Once you've built up your "ability" to be okay in the face of rejection, you'll be better prepared to approach people who you really want to spend time with. Ultimately, the ability to face rejection is one of the most important skills a person can learn in order to create both personal and business success.

Jonathan Robinson is a professional speaker and the best-selling author of Shortcuts to Bliss, Communication Miracles for Couples, and Shortcuts to Success: the best ways to master your money, time, health and relationships. He offers free articles about success in relationships on his web site Finding Happiness.