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Imposter Syndrome and Embracing Rejection

Have you ever done something really amazing and wondered if anyone could tell that it was only little-old-you doing that?  I felt that way while organizing and running a national weight-loss contest in 2007.  I still don’t know where I came up with the audacity to give it a go.

At the time, I was a work-from-home mom and definitely not famous or noteworthy.  With the help of my husband at the time, I had commissioned a website with a complicated database and advanced features.  The website was automated to help people lose weight the healthy way, through customized diet and exercise plans. For 2007, it was a pretty great technology. Building the website was exciting and fun and it inspired me to want to do even more. I decided to organize a national weight-loss contest, right there from my house.

I convinced several different popular companies to donate a total of over $50,000 in contest prizes.  I recruited many nationally recognized experts in fitness and nutrition to volunteer their time as resources for the contest participants.  The media picked up on the contest and spread the word. Many people changed their eating habits, learned to exercise safely, and won great prizes. The whole time I watched in amazement at what I could accomplish with help.  

I had a strong sense of “imposter syndrome”: feeling like I wasn’t worthy or experienced enough to put on something of such a massive scale.  I often wondered if the people I was working with imagined me in my home, sitting at my PC, crossing my fingers.

On a smaller scale and at a younger age, I also remember feeling imposter syndrome the first time that I trained a fitness client in the gym.  I was freshly certified, relatively inexperienced, and there I was with the responsibility to safely and effectively train someone in proper weightlifting form. I think I planned for that first session for a few hours beforehand and showed up very early for the appointment.  I was so concerned that my lack of experience would show. I applied the concept of “fake it ’til you make it.” And guess what?  It went great.

It’s normal to feel like a fraud when you are stretching yourself.  And it’s very, very good to keep reaching anyway.

My goal this year is to experience much more imposter syndrome.  That is because imposter syndrome is a sign that I am pushing my limits.  It’s a signal that I am doing more and hopefully making a difference.

I will also try to get comfortable asking. I tested my fear of rejection both when I asked my first client to sign up for a training package and when I asked companies to donate tens of thousands of dollars worth of prizes. It was tough and scary.  I got many, many “no’s” before each yes. I often felt like it was hopeless but I convinced myself to just keep calling, emailing, and asking. Rejection isn’t fun. But, I need to do more of it. Facing rejection is something that we all need to practice.

Don’t believe me that facing rejection is a good thing?  Check out this amazing Ted Talk on the topic.  Jia Jang realized that he had a fear of rejection and that the fear was limiting him.  He gave himself the challenge to get rejected every single day for 100 days. 

He made up his own rejection challenges and completed them, taking video footage of the experiences.  His very first challenge: borrow $100 from a stranger.  The second challenge: ask for a burger refill.  Then, to his great surprise, the third challenge didn’t lead to rejection.  He was to ask a donut shop to link some donuts to make an “Olympic donut” for him.  Much to his shock, they gladly fulfilled his request.  That video went viral and Jia Jiang (and presumably the donut shop) became famous.  He said that he began to learn that the secret is to “not run away” after asking, and even to ask, “why?”

When he asked a stranger to let him plant a flower in his backyard, the answer was no.  But, when he asked why not, the stranger explained that his dog would eat the flower and he didn’t want to waste the flower.  He suggested Jia go across the street because his neighbor Connie loved flowers.

Connie was delighted, and Jia planted a rose bush in her yard.

Jia also learned that just asking, “Is that weird?” put people at ease and opened doors for him. That simple phrase got him a temporary position as a “Starbucks Greeter,” even after he told the guy at Starbucks that his intention was to “give a Walmart experience to the Starbucks customers.”  Ha! If that doesn’t make you want to take a risk, I don’t know what will.  

Seriously, you have to watch this Ted Talk.  It’s hilarious and also very motivating and educational.

If, like me, you become an instant rejection fan, check out the book Rejection Proof authored by the same Ted Talk speaker, Jia Jiang. I plan to add the book to my Audible collection. Don’t forget, you can likely read or listen to it through your local public library through the Libby app. Also, check out the author’s website, where he is introducing his new DareMe app.

Are you comfortable with rejection? If not, now is a great time to get a little practice. What is one thing you wish you could ask for right now, but you’re afraid the answer will be no? What is the worst that can happen? If you never ask, the answer can never be “yes.”