Feeling like an absolute chump, I ask the hard-boiled Brooklyn bus driver to let me off exactly at the intersection near my apartment, rather than at the closest proper stop two blocks farther down the street. He flatly declines me, of course, gasses it past my house, stops, opens the door, and yet doesn't harm a single hair on my head. It was working.
Self-improvement means different things to different people. The popular notion of it almost always starts with going to the gym, or maybe shopping at Whole Foods and attending book clubs. But for devotees of Jason Comely's Rejection Therapy, self-improvement is a process that you work through one dismissal at a time.
Ask to cut to the front of the checkout line. Ask a stranger for gum. These, and many other potential avenues for rejection, come printed on a deck of cards that the Rejection Therapy "player" is supposed to carry around and draw at random. If they have a better idea for a rejection, then they're encouraged to put that into play as well.
There are those out there for whom rejection of the right sort is a crippling, terrifying prospect. Asking someone out, asking for a raise, and so on. When we take interpersonal risk of any sort and it doesn't pan out the way we had hoped, it's jarring and discourages us from taking another risk in the future. But Comely's unusual game turns this paradigm on its ear. If you're getting rejected regularly, you're winning.
"There's only one rule to the game," Comely says. "To get rejected by someone in real life every single day. Even the cards are suggestions, not rules or commandments." Comely left some of the cards artfully vague in order to allow for interpretation — its simplicity allows for lots and lots of depth. "It's very simple, yet it's the hardest game in the world."
Rejection Therapy was born of Comely's own hardships. "I had just gotten divorced and set off to start a new life," he explains. "I thought I'd move back to Cambridge and start a business designing websites. I landed great clients giving a ton of work, so I locked myself in my apartment and worked all the time. I was making a lot of money in the first year, but I was working night-and-day. I didn't really know anyone, had no support network. I was trying to reach out to people, but didn't know how anymore. My comfort zone was more like a cage."
But the cage, he realized, is elastic and could be re-calibrated, and Comely began stretching his to health. Rejection Therapy, while it's hardly some doctor-approved "treatment," is firmly rooted in the science of immersion therapy. If you're afraid of heights, go skydiving. If you're afraid of snakes, try an Appalachian church. And if you're afraid of rejection, make it a point to get rejected. Every day.
The anecdotal evidence says the game will work to improve people's quality of life to varying degrees. Comely often receives emails about girlfriends met through the game, or dream jobs landed using skills that it "teaches." But for others, it's bound to feel weird and torturous.
"We tell ourselves too many stories," Comely suggests. "It's this self-talk narrative we go by when bad things happen to us. For me, the biggest help in the world is to stop telling yourself stories. Whatever it is, just stop. Words are the enemy of enlightenment. They do nothing but steer us away from peace."
A game like Rejection Therapy can help dismantle the all-too-easily-believed idea that the world is a bigger, scarier place that we can handle; that people are out to get us. After the fourth or fifth time I asked someone to make change for a dollar, the world felt less like a thing that was happening to me and more like a video game that accepted my input and delivered the appropriate real-world output. In this case: four quarters.
I haven't yet played to the point that it's become my default mission to seek out rejection wherever possible, but the lessons to take away are valuable: that failure and rejection are inevitable to a certain degree, that rejection is not nearly as ruinous as we have lead ourselves to believe. Rejection Therapy is like tag for adults, turning the real world, and life, into an active playing field with real-world gains just for taking part. If tag is great cardio, then Rejection Therapy can be just as internally beneficial.
Comely describes his own "complete shift in perception about what the rules" of the world were. His game certainly worked to push him through a difficult time as he learned truths about himself and the nature of rejection. "The depth of the game is incredible," Comely says.
Your results may vary.