Photo Credit: Kevin_Morris via Compfight cc

Setbacks are a pillar of an ambitious life. If you’re looking to do big things in 2013, you will encounter obstacles and challenges and may find yourself moving farther away from your goals, rather than closer to them.

Big setbacks can be a lot to handle. They can be discouraging, exact damage to our bodies, bank accounts and social status, and getting your groove back may take a long time and never be fully complete.

While I’m very grateful for the life I’ve lived thus far, it was not without setbacks. I’ve encountered them as an athlete (injuries and training plateaus), entrepreneur (investor rejections, unhappy customers, hiring difficulties) and human being (missing flights, trouble with the law, arguments among friends).

I was recently talking with two people – a parent of a young child, and a former coworker about dealing with setbacks and thought I’d share some thoughts that might be useful for anyone who has recently faced a difficult setback.

13 Steps to Rebounding from a Big Setback

  1. It’s OK to feel bad.
     It’s completely natural to feel strong negative emotions like anger, sadness, frustration, disappointment and humiliation. Don’t deny these feelings or take them as indication that you are a failure. You’ve hit road block on your way toward a goal and that never feels good.
  2. You won’t feel this way forever
    We tend to project our current state into the future. If we feel good, we think we’ll always feel this good. If we feel bad, we think we’ll always feel this bad. Realize that like how the pain from stubbing your toe subsides over time, the strong negative emotions you feel from your setback will subside with time, allowing you to heal and move on.
  3. You are not alone
    Because failures and setbacks are not broadcast the way successes are, we tend to think that no one has ever dealt with the situation we’re dealing with. But chances are —  whether it’s a divorce, a criminal charge, a job loss, a public failure, the death of someone close to you, a huge debt or a natural disaster —  someone you know has dealt with it before.
  4. Continue reading

Sometimes it takes very specific moments for people to realize their intense desire to change (I wrote about these ‘focal moments’ in another post). A friend that I have a strong affinity to (we think alike in many ways and treat our work and life with huge amounts of enthusiasm and a touch of masochism) sent me an email about three epiphanies he had over a recent evening. He clearly had a focal moment and I wanted to share a sanitized version of this email for you guys.

How dissatisfied are you really with your appearance? Or your career? Or your chances at starting a startup? These are the words of a man who has drawn the line and is going to do whatever it takes to make shit happen.

I was dancing shirtless to crazy techno at a party with some friends amid a huge crowd of half naked energetic people. Strobe Lights, Fake Smoke, Stage Dancers, Energy.

Looking around the crowd I noticed more beautiful girls than I’m accustomed to seeing in SF. Dancing shirtless (with arms flexed and stomach pulled in) right next to an attractive girl I was also aware of lots of guys with smaller stomachs and bigger arms. I could probably beat most of the guys there in a fist fight but from just looking at me I didn’t seem particularly special and potentially even below average. There and then I decided that I had enough. I was never going to be in that situation again. Starting that day I would start a consistent training program focused specifically on biceps mass gain, abs, and reducing fat.

I’m terrible at closing physical distance. It’s not that I’m never able to do it but it’s something that I’m so aware of and so bad at that it needs to be fixed ASAP. I would call it my #1 problem. My friend started grinding against her later in the night and it wasn’t a big deal while I danced close to her but not touching – I was afraid to do it and didn’t know how.

So both an amazing night but also a call for action. I’ve been thinking about many of these things for a long time but now I’m going to be laser focused on them. Athletics, Appearance, and Social Skills are only one side of the coin but I need to stop making excuses and work on them.

That night I went to sleep at 5 and that morning I got up at 8am to go to Muay Thai. Then I lifted weights. Then I climbed. Then Monday I went to Crossfit. I was scared of it like I always am for some reason but I went and I did it. Then Tuesday I sparred even though it scared me even more. And I’d love to say I kicked ass or really overcame most of my fear but I didn’t. But I did persist and I’m going to keep persisting and pushing. I don’t know if I really want these things as bad as the quote is describing – I don’t think I’m there yet. But I want to get there.

NOTE: The Rejection Therapy iPhone app just came out. Now you can access a plethora of rejection ideas and stay on track with your challenge with your phone! Get it here.

The San Francisco Chronicle published a story today on Rejection Therapy which covers Jason Comely’s decision to embark upon this challenge as well as my adventures with rejection therapy.

Having worked at a newspaper and seen the editorial process up close and personal, I get a little nervous before an article about me or something I’m associated with comes out. You never really know how it’s going to depict you.

Luckily, I think the article came out pretty well. You can read it on the site, but I wanted to share some parts of it with you – with commentary. Enjoy!

REJECTION THERAPYIn search of confidence


Nice guys have it rough. Take Jason Shen, for example. All he wanted to do was say hello and pass out candy on his morning walk to the Caltrain station in San Francisco.

“Uh, no,” said one man, backing away.

Shen next held out his plastic jack-o-lantern for a groundskeeper riding on the back of a utility truck.

“Too early,” she said, shaking her head.

In front of the Academy of Art University, a young woman in pigtails and knee socks took out her ear buds to hear his pitch, laughed at him and walked off.

“Ugh. That one really hurt, because she was cute,” said Shen, 24.

Rejection stings, but it’s exactly what Shen wants.

He’s on a self-imposed, self-improvement plan to get rejected by a different person every day for a month — a quest to get over his fear of rejection.

So how did any of this happen? To be honest, I’m not totally sure. I guess Meredith May, the reporter who wrote the story, got a whiff of an interesting piece and interviewed Jason Comely. She also then talked with Veronica from the Rejection Therapy Facebook group (which is quite active and supportive for a Facebook group, I must say).After learning about Rejection Therapy from those folks, she talked with me and then had me followed with a camera while she observed watched me do rejection attempts “live”.

It’s all part of the 30-Day Rejection Therapy Challenge — a real-life game created in September by a Canadian Web designer with an anxiety disorder. And it has become a cult phenomenon as the idea spreads through Facebook, Twitter, the Hacker News blog and other social media.

“As I was playing the game, I realized people were a lot more willing to give me what I asked for than I realized,” said creator Jason Comely, 40.

“I realized my comfort zone was like a cage keeping me from exploring a lot of opportunities. I was more inclined to stay at home in front of my computer instead of going out and interacting with people because I was too afraid of being rejected.”

Adherents in New York, Washington, San Francisco, Denmark and Hungary are documenting their denials on Facebook and Twitter. Followers can either buy a deck of cards on the rejec website with suggested ways to get denied — Invite someone you’ve never socialized with out to dinner, ask someone their political affiliation — or players can come up with ideas on their own

It’s pretty amazing to see where its gone.

Jason Comely is a pretty amazing guy. The fact that he was able to recognize he was being too introverted and limiting himself, and deciding on his own to create this game is incredible. Who does that? It’s like being a heavy smoker and then creating a internationally renown “Quit Smoking” program. When you are extremely introverted, doing rejection therapy opens up a whole new world for you and I think Jason is a great example of that.

Shen, who works in sales for a high-tech startup in Burlingame, started rejection therapy to become more outgoing.

“I think fear of rejection holds me back,” he said. “I have this co-worker who talks to anybody and has a lot of friends.

All these weird opportunities come to him because he’s willing to put himself out there. I find that appealing.”

Coaching others

Since playing Rejection Therapy, Shen has received so many responses to his blog ( that he’s now offered to help coach others through their own 30-day rejection challenge.

It’s true. I was talking about my coworker Ryan Hupfer, one of the coolest guys I know. You should read his blog – – he’s just got interesting and funny stories about his life and the people he’s met.

I’ve also been helping out a few folks who are doing Rejection Therapy. Here’s some advice. Shoot me an email with where you’re at (see the sidebar) and I’d love to help you too.

From his rejections and acceptances, he learned that people don’t say no because there’s something fundamentally wrong with him; they say no because they don’t want the offer.

“Once I learned not to take it personally, everything got so much easier,” he said.

Eventually, someone took Shen’s candy. Jesse Acosta, a model on his way to the Academy of Art University, reached into the jack-o-lantern and took a fistful of lollipops.

“I didn’t think it was odd he was passing out candy to strangers; I just figured he had too much leftover Halloween candy,” Acosta said.

Acosta planned to pass the suckers out to his friends. “I’ll spread the goodwill, kind of like he is doing,” Acosta said.

Shen says his life has become much more like his suave co-worker’s since he started Rejection Therapy.

He recently shared dinner with a woman he’s had a crush on for months.

After the date, she e-mailed to say how much she admired his rejection experiment. He wrote back, explaining how much he likes her.

“I wanted to take the risk, and I told her if she doesn’t feel the same way, that’s OK. Sure, that would be disappointing, but I’ve learned that really, everything will be OK.”

E-mail Meredith May at

Ultimately, I think one of best things I got out of Rejection Therapy is the feeling that it’s ok to go for things and interact with strangers. And that asking usually won’t hurt you at all. I talk a lot more about this in my final review of rejection therapy. I think Meredith did a great job with the story and it was a fun experience – thanks for reading and be sure to check our weekly podcast on Rejection Therapy!