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The Gift of Rejection

It’s tragic how we become paralyzed by the fear of rejection. Before we take one step toward a goal, before we even try to see what’s possible, we quit because we don’t want to get rejected.

In his best-selling book, The Four Hour Work Week, author Timothy Ferris describes how he challenged a Princeton University class to make personal contact with a seemingly impossible person to reach, such as Bill Clinton, Jennifer Lopez, or J.D. Salinger. The first student to do it would win a round-trip ticket to anywhere in the world.

Timothy was prepared to pay for the trip. In fact, the rules were such that anyone could have turned in a one-paragraph response and collected the prize. But no one even attempted the experiment. Timothy explained that the students didn’t believe they could beat their classmates, so they gave up without trying.

Here’s an important lesson: never say no for other people. That’s their job. In the pursuit of a goal, everyone has a job. Your job is to dream audaciously, act courageously, and make the ask. Their job is to say yes or no. And this is their job and their job alone.

If you’re a dreamer like me, you will have to make lots of asks. While writing this piece, I’ve made asks of four influential people, and every single one of them has turned me down. It’s humiliating. So why do I persist in this self-punishing exercise? A long time ago, I learned that rejection is a gift. Let me explain.

Babe Ruth is known as the homerun king. He was the first player to hit 60 homeruns in one season. Some say baseball became popular only when he started playing in the 1920s. When you think of Babe Ruth, you don’t think of failure. But get this—from 1926 until 1964, Babe Ruth held Major League Baseball’s career strikeout record. He swung at a lot of pitches and never connected on most of them. You’ve got to love that. The thing that brought failure to his career was the very thing that brought him success.

Rejection clears the playing field. If you can handle rejection, you’ll become part of a small fraternity of dreamers who see their ideas become reality. When you make it past your first few rejections, the field of dreamers begins to thin out.

We’ve got to become people who are at ease with rejection. We’ve got to stop letting it deter us. At the risk of making a poor analogy, think about the difference between American men and Italian men when it comes to flirting with women. Italian men aren’t crushed by rejection; they accept it as part of the game.

We must press through rejection because there’s a yes for us out there somewhere. And the only way to find it is by sifting through all the no’s. I run a yearlong coaching process for 30 individuals called Dream Year. One of the participants, Justin Wise, told me he wanted to attend financial guru Dave Ramsey’s EntreLeadership event in April 2008. This exclusive business conference hosts just 150 people in a prestigious location at a price tag of $4,000.

As a young ministry leader, Justin couldn’t afford to go, but he believed there was a yes out there somewhere, so he decided to make an ask. He sent Dave an e-mail expressing his desire to attend but explaining that he couldn’t afford it. He asked if he could come for free. One week later, Justin received a surprising response. Not only did Dave invite him to be his guest, but he also paid for his airfare and hotel room. I wonder how many of us in Justin’s position would have said no for Dave before ever writing that e-mail.

As we go about making asks, God will open some doors and close others. But we have to persevere in asking. We have to keep trying doorknobs. We have to test our heels on the water’s surface. Because when we press through rejection, when we sift through the no’s, something amazing happens. Eventually, we get our yes. And our goal becomes one step closer to reality.