Last year I took a course called Mama Gena’s School of Womanly Arts, hands down the best personal investment I made all year. I explored womanhood, desires, and all things sensual in business and life. In the program, we got tossed headfirst into uncomfortable situations that revealed personal truths, like learning about rejection by getting rejected multiple times. My experience with rejection surprised (and delighted me.) Here’s what happened:

One afternoon during the program we had to go out onto the streets of New York City and in ten minutes, grab a man to bring back to the conference hall. My default thought was “Well that’s stupid,” but the point was to look rejection square in the face, figure out the right story to tell, and hardest of all, ask New Yorkers for a minute of their time. You just don’t do that in New York City.

Personally, I don’t have a problem being “rejected.” Partially because as a kid who didn’t know better, I did lots of things that embarrassed me and I learned not to take things personally if I wanted to do what I wanted to do. This carried into adulthood and remains intact today – I’m not swayed by other people’s opinions. Still, my idea of fun isn’t trying to get a “Yes” out of New Yorkers doggedly trained to say No.

They yell “Go!” and all of a sudden I feel three things: Fear, as I wonder, “Am I really doing this?”, excitement when I realize I look great, confusion as I think about what I’ll say on the street. I look around – other women seem to be feeling the same way.

Without thinking, I hit the streets. It helps that I feel good about myself. Now what’s left is the approach. I search for a good looking man and focus on having fun instead of the fear that’s easily within reach.

I find a man near the subway, ask him if he’s in a hurry and if he has ten minutes to spare. He looks confused. I tell him about our course – 200 ladies doing pleasure research. Bewildered, he asks three times, “What’s the catch?” “No catch,” I say, “Just that you may end up having fun if you take a leap of faith.” I keep it light, funny, honest. He’s not sure what to do and I realize I had no idea what a fluster a pretty lady could cause. He tells me to find him in ten minutes and I reply, “I’ll be back in five with someone else” so he should decide quickly. He’s shocked. I laugh (at the situation, not him) and walk away.

I then proceed to ask five or six men who each say “No” because they’re working or running late (or running to work because they’re late.) Some look intrigued, others regretful, others just walk by fast. I don’t lose heart but start to feel myself get pissed. “It’s only five minutes!” I think, rejection rearing it’s ugly head and starting to wear me down. I catch myself. I know if I unleash negative energy, things will get messy. So I slow down and know that the energy I put out is what will come back. I smile, at myself and my willingness more than anything else, and start feeling good again. I focus on how great a guy will feel when I tell him he’s made my day by agreeing to come back with me. Boom. I walk into a Radio Shack and out with Dan. Dan, who’s co-worker was so intrigued she said she’d cover for him while he checked out this “research.” Oddly enough, Dan turned out to be a nice guy from my hometown. We walk to the hall.

That’s the relevant part of the story: Dan entering a situation he had no clue about and getting appreciation from 200 women all because I risked getting rejected.

Rejection magnifies insecurity and fear to a point of discomfort. It’s not easy or enjoyable (for even the most confident people) to hear “No” again and again. What I kept coming back to was “So what?” So what if they say No? So what if you have to keep switching your approach? So what if you’re in a situation you wouldn’t ordinarily choose to be in?

I learned some lessons from rejection, but the most important was that it honestly wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. I survived it and you will too. Here are the lessons:

1.) There’s no way around rejection.

We all face it in our lives, multiple times, so why not get used to dealing with it in the right way now, before we turn into panicked fools. Bring it.

2.) You’ll feel worse if you don’t do the thing that might get you rejected.

Had I not done this exercise, I would have felt much worse about my inability to confront rejection than embarrassed about actually doing it. If I didn’t deal with it, I’d be restless and fearful when it showed up again in my life. And it will show up again. Even if you want to do something that guarantees some type of rejection, do it. Every successful person goes through heartbreaking struggle to achieve their goals, so if you’re in this space, trust it and keep going.

3.) Know that rejection is not personal.

If I took the fact that people on the street had meetings and work personally, it would have been silly, right? But we take rejection personally all the time when often it has nothing to do with us – it’s more about what’s happening in the other person’s head so best to take ourself out of it.

4.) A deadline helps. A lot.

Ten minutes was all I needed (or wanted) for this exercise. Any more time and I would have thought myself right out of it.

5.) Find a purpose for rejection.

Put something purposeful behind your rejection, like learning about yourself, meeting a challenge, expanding your comfort zone, or facing your fears. Beyond taking the sting out of rejection, this will also make you less attached to the outcome.

6.) Decide the best approach.

I tested out several approaches to see what people responded and what finally worked. But I only learned what worked by feeling like a duffer when the rest of my lines didn’t. If you want to learn sales, marketing, and psychology in one fell swoop, do this exercise. It forces you to get inside your *customers* head, and figure out what’s in it for them, not you. Life is an experiment and you don’t know anything until you test. Be curious.

7.) Slow down.

Slowing down communicates confidence and ease. Speed communicates nervousness, restlessness, and fear.

8.) Once you do it, you’ll feel relief.

If you’ve avoided and run away from rejection too many times, you now have permission to own up and face it. Sometimes when you have to face something, you actually feel relief knowing there’s no way out. Don’t freak out about the results, just put yourself out there and know that all of this is training and all of this is learnable.

9.) Reject if you must, but acknowledge.

From a tourist asking you to directions to a homeless person asking for change, even if you can’t give them what they’re looking for, acknowledge them. Humans want dignity, and a “No” isn’t nearly as bad as being invisible.

10.) Rejection isn’t easy, but it’s much easier in community

Because I knew other ladies were out there taking similar risks, it made the entire task safer and I was more able to stick it out, fail, try hard, and ultimately succeed. A potentially heinous Sunday turned into a fun afternoon.

11.) If given the chance, we want to make each other happy.

What I’ve seen over and over again? That if given the option, men leap to make a woman happy when it legitimately puts a smile on her face. Let’s drop assumptions and be curious about how we interact with each other.

xx Ishita

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