Getting rejected, part II

[Here’s Getting rejected, part I]

Seth Godin is a personal hero of mine. His most recent book, What To Do When It’s Your Turn, has been a joy to own.

This story is my favorite passage from the book. It’s a simple, but powerful lesson on how to think about rejection:

Try this with $5

It might teach you something about what “no” means.

Go to the bus station and walk up to the first person you meet. Say to him, with as much confidence and trustworthiness you can muster, “would you like to buy this five-dollar bill? I’m selling it for a dollar.”

The odds are, he will walk away without buying anything. In fact, he will probably avoid eye contact and walk away rather quickly.

How rude!

Doesn’t he know that you’re offering him a five-dollar bill for just a dollar?

Of course people won’t buy a five-dollar bill from a stranger at the bus station. It’s the first rule of the bus station: don’t buy something that feels like a scam. The second rule is don’t talk to strangers.

That story got there before you did.

Do you understand that the ‘no’ that you heard wasn’t someone rejecting you, or even rejecting your new project after carefully and completely reviewing it?

It was the ‘no’ of someone examining your story (as heard) and comparing it to their worldview.

You never had a chance.

Consider this alternative…

Go to your neighbor’s house with a $5 bill in a plain, unsigned envelope. Leave it in his mailbox.

Go back again tomorrow.

Do it one more time the day after that.

Then, on the fourth day, ring his doorbell, hand him another $5 and say, “I’m the guy who keeps leaving you five-dollar bills.” Smile and walk away.

On the fifth day, ring his bell and say, “Hey, wanna buy a $5 bill for a dollar?”

My guess is that it’ll go a lot better than it did at the train station. 

The five-dollar bill later in this story is worth just as much as it was at the beginning. What’s different is the story, not just the story you’re telling, but the story he’s hearing. It’s weird (you’re weird) but it feels a lot safer this time, doesn’t it?

Everything you create, every idea you try to share, every project you launch is a five-dollar bill. Sometimes, people will refuse it, even as a gift. Other times, they’ll fall all over themselves to pay you ten dollars.

They buy (or reject) a story. Not you.


On mean girls

Anyone, male or female, has the potential to act like a mean girl.

Anyone, male or female, has the potential not to.

As Walt Whitman pointed out, “I am large, I contain multitudes.”

Why you didn’t get the job

Earlier this month I needed to hire one more employee to work in the fitness center. The week prior I happened to get an e-mail from a student asking for a job. I knew she would be a good fit, so she got it.

Yesterday I got three e-mails from students asking for the same job. Since I already have a full staff, they didn’t get it.

It would be silly for those three students to spend time wondering what’s wrong with them. Are they incompetent? Do I not like them? Are they fated to a life of rejection? Of course not — the timing was just unlucky in this case.

Once you realize that most instances of career rejection work like this, you can move on. You can move on to the most rational and productive response there is:

Keep trying. Keep failing. Keep improving.

An incredible comparison

Fredonia women's club swimming 1976.jpg

Scrolling through Fredonia’s Facebook alumni page, I found this picture of the 1976 club women’s swimming team.

Thirty-six years later, the varsity women’s swimming team in 2012:


I don’t think I need to point out the differences that signal obvious progress over the last four decades. But that’s not the incredible comparison.

The incredible comparison is that there’s no evidence — none whatsoever — that the people in one picture are any happier than the people in the other.

No, this is not a critique of progress. No rational person would choose to go back to how things were in 1976. It is, however, a reminder that happiness often comes from wanting what you already have.

Why a 4.0 GPA matters

A senior athlete just got a 4.0 GPA in his last semester before graduating. He was on academic probation as a freshman.

On the one hand, getting a 4.0 GPA doesn’t matter at all. It doesn’t matter that you memorized a few more facts about world history than the person with a 3.8 GPA.

On the other hand, seeing yourself go from academic probation to a 4.0 GPA is a powerful lesson. It changes how you see yourself: “What else could I get better at?”

Growth mindset“, the belief that you can change your qualities through your own effort, has become cliche in education circles. And yet if you listen closely, every day you’ll hear someone refer to things they’re not good at:

“I’m just not an outdoors person.” … “I’m just not a math person.” … “I’m too socially awkward to talk to people.” … “I’m not very confident.”

Are you sure you couldn’t be?

The Bachelorette and finding love

Most people who watch professional wrestling know that it’s fake. It doesn’t matter though, because they’re only watching for entertainment. No harm done.

Political debates in last year’s election cycle were only a little less fake than professional wrestling. People intuitively knew that both candidates were often lying. It didn’t matter though, because most people watched the debates for entertainment. In the pursuit of truth, harm was done.

Shows like The Bachelorette and The Bachelor fall somewhere in between professional wrestling and political debates. Most people know the shows are highly scripted. Characters are selected, heroes and villains created, and love stories ensue, all on purpose, all done to please the viewer (ultimately, all done to sell advertising). There’s high entertainment value in finding love.

The problem is that we assume “finding love” is utterly important. We assume that if we haven’t “found love”, we’re missing something. Neither assumption is true.

In 2000, three psychiatrists came together to write a groundbreaking book on the psychobiology of love, A General Theory of Love. In it, they debunk our cultural notion of what love is, and what it ought to be:

“In a dazzling vote of confidence for form over substance, our culture fawns over the fleetingness of being in love while discounting the importance of loving.


Our society goes the craziness of in love one better by insisting on the supremacy of delectable but ephemeral madness. Cultural messages inform the populace that if they aren’t perpetually electric they are missing out on the pinnacle of relatedness. Every pop-cultural medium portrays the height of adult intimacy as the moment when two attractive people who don’t know a thing about each other tumble into bed and have passionate sex. All the waking moments of our love lives should tend, we are told, toward that throbbing, amorous apotheosis. But in love merely brings the players together, and the end of that prelude is as inevitable as it is desirable. True relatedness has a chance to blossom only with the waning of its intoxicating predecessor.


A culture wise in love’s ways would understand a relationship’s demand for time. It would teach the difference between in love and loving; it would impart to its members the value of the mutuality on which their lives depend. A culture versed in the workings of emotional life would encourage and promote the activities that sustain health — togetherness with one’s partner and children; homes, families, and communities of connectedness. Such a society would guide its inhabitants to the joy that can be found at the heart of attachment — what Bertrand Russell called ‘in a mystic miniature, the prefiguring vision of the heaven that saints and poets have imagined.’

The contrast between that culture and our own could not be more evident. Limbic pursuits sink slowly and steadily lower on America’s list of collective priorities. Top-ranking items remain the pursuit of wealth, physical beauty, youthful appearance, and the shifting, elusive markers of status. There are brief spasms of pleasure to be had at the end of those pursuits — the razor-thin delight of the latest purchase, the momentary glee of flaunting this promotion or that unnecessary trinket — pleasure here, but no contentment. Happiness is within range only for adroit people who give the slip to America’s values. These rebels will necessarily forgo exalted titles, glamorous friends, exotic vacations, washboard abs, designer everything — all the proud indicators of upward mobility — and in exchange, they may just get a chance at a decent life.”

Why I love Fredonia

There’s no such thing as Fredonia outside of your imagination. I can prove it.

If the state of New York came in today to shut down our university’s operation, Fredonia, as a place, would cease to exist. The collection of buildings, sidewalks, and trees would no longer be a university — it would just be another landscape. Fredonia can’t literally exist if a group of legislators can eliminate it with the stroke of a pen.

If Fredonia isn’t a collection of structures then maybe it’s a collection of people — the students, faculty, and staff. But that logic falters quickly, given that employees come and go, and that students graduate every year.

So If Fredonia isn’t a place, and it isn’t people, then what is it?

Fredonia is a story.

Yuval Noah Harari has brilliantly pointed out that humans rule the world, not because of our brainpower, but because of our ability to cooperate in large numbers. And in order to cooperate in large numbers we need a compelling story.

The United States tells a compelling story about “democracy.” Lawyers tell a compelling story about defending “human rights.” Catholics tell a compelling story about “God.” The stories are everywhere, and people who believe the same story can create a shared future together.

I love Fredonia because I love its story. Here’s what I’ve learned about it:

Former swimming and diving coach John Crawford on building relationships.

Women’s basketball coach Linda Hill-MacDonald on fighting for justice in women’s sports.

Vice President Terry Brown on making higher education affordable, and responding to a Donald Trump administration.

Vice President Cedric Howard on enrollment and who Fredonia will serve in the future.

Former track and field coach Jim Ulrch on building the most successful sports program in Fredonia’s history.