I heard the woman’s voice on the other end of the telephone and I was so excited that I nearly shouted “yes!” before I realized that she was not calling to offer me the position. “Oh, no,” I said, you’re calling to tell me no.” She started crying, saying how sorry she was, the committee decided that they just had to stick with the traditional approach, maybe next time they could go in a different direction, so on and whatever. I told her thanks for the opportunity to be engaged in the search process, yatta, yatta, and goodbye. I had been so certain of getting the position, I bought a new suit. Stunned, I sat in silence for several minutes just trying to absorb what had happened. This had been my 61 st interview. 61 st rejection. With more than 1100 resumes sent out over the previous two and a half years, I was at least getting interviews; just not offers. I opened up my computer, sent out another resume, and made calls to contacts. Metaphorically, I pulled up my socks, wiped my nose, and soldiered on.
Our daughter had been in our house at the time, anticipating a celebratory toast to my new job. After such a long period of unemployment, it promised to be full of vitality and joy. Now, all that anticipated revelry came to a screeching halt. Both my wife and daughter were holding hands and crying in the kitchen when I entered. They tried to put on a stolid face when they say me. It was no good. I put my arms around them for a group hug. After a big sigh and final squeeze, I grabbed one of the treats on the table, a glass of wine, and said “a toast to job searchers everywhere!” And we toasted my fellow sojourners on one of the hardest treks anyone can ever take. Looking for and securing new employment, especially in one’s mid-fifties, following a protracted period of unemployment, is a mind-numbing exercise of persistence – and positivity.
I looked at the baseball picture that hangs over my desk, put on my favorite baseball cap, opened up my job search notebook and started my daily drills. One more time. Making phone calls, setting up networking meetings, attending gatherings where I could connect with others who might know someone whose second cousin’s neighbor might be hiring. My daughter asked my wife how it was possible for me to be so positive all the time. Through her tears, she said that she had no idea but was glad that I was.
Perseverance is a characteristic of baseball, as we’ve noted. It’s a characteristic of any long-term relationship. To me, one of the ingredients that keeps that perseverance on track is positivity. But it’s intentional. It takes conscious, determined, effort to be – and remain – positive. Especially in the realm of job searching. Rejection is for many (myself included) a major shame trigger. One of the gifts given to me through my long period of unemployment was the persistent rejection. Hundreds of resumes, dozens of interviews, ultimately 63 rejections preceded the one successful offer for the job that I had not even imagined at the beginning of my search. It was the job that I retired from after more than a decade of having the experience of “never going to work.” That is, I loved it so much that I sometimes couldn’t get to sleep at night because I was so excited about what I’d be doing the next day. Not many people get to live like that. Had I not been intentionally positive in my outlook, in my daily routine, in my interactions with others, I have no doubt that I’d still be unemployed. Intentional positivity can be learned but it must be practiced. Like in baseball, it requires us to show up, dig in, and suck less….get better at it as we practice.