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When Losing Is Its Own Reward

There was a boxer who, when faced with the likelihood of being knocked out, sold ad space on the soles of his shoes. Call it what you will, but I found that to be a move closer to brilliant than to defeatist.
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There was a boxer who, when faced with the likelihood of being knocked out, sold ad space on the soles of his shoes. Call it what you will, but I found that to be a move closer to brilliant than to defeatist.

Sometimes, in fact quite often, the thing that is likely to happen goes ahead and happens. Probabilities have a way of bearing out. And there is no glory in delusional optimism. Take the current job market, for example.

I know that I am not the only one who has had a hard time dealing with un/underemployment lately. So this is a public love letter to all the losers out there. You are worthy. Don't give up. Things may not get better. Don't give up anyway.

It's interesting that a direct rejection can be easier to handle than no response. And that gets me thinking: It must be primal. We mammals will take negative attention over being ignored. Just observe misbehaving animals and children -- and adults, for that matter.

At least being rejected constitutes feedback. They don't want you, but they have acknowledged that you exist. And that counts for something as some of us enter this fading phase of life when women become invisible (and not in that magical "superpower" way, alas).

Hey, is that why some older women join the Red Hat Society? Is it a practical measure in some ways, with the bright hat serving as a mark of membership as much as it is a safety tactic, to prevent being struck by cars due to people looking right through you, and so forth? Sign me up.

It's true that you must always be working every possible connection and referral. But that comes with the risk of having to report back to your friend that you didn't get the job, or that their friend didn't return your call, or, worse, having to receive advice when you reach out to people. Oh, the merry gauntlet of advice:

  • "You must find your passion." (Pardon me, please, while I vomit on your shoes.)

  • "Take the civil service exam!" (On it.)
  • "Being an entrepreneur is the only way." (Are you writing the check to stake me?)
  • "Have you tried networking?" (Only every possible outlet.)
  • "Job fairs?" (Please see networking.)
  • "You should start a small farm." (Wow.)
  • "You have to put out an abundance vibe, not a scarcity vibe." (You hate me.)
  • "Be more confident. They will sense your desperation!" (You really hate me.)
  • "Be more humble. They will think you think you're too good for the job!" (I hate you.)
  • "Start growing marijuana so you will be first when it's legalized." (I love you.)
  • "Follow your dreams. Don't accept anything less." (Pardon me, please, while I kill you.)
  • "I always thought you should have gone to law school, but you didn't listen." (Pardon me, please, while I kill myself.)
  • "No offense, but, um, you should be realistic. Have you applied at Home Depot?" (None taken, and yes I have. And, um, go to hell.)
  • "Dumb down your résumé." (Done.)
  • "Build up your résumé." (Done.)
  • "Have more than one resume." (How about 10. Is that enough?)
  • By the way, one extra daily punishment for availing yourself of online employment resources? The nonstop email tease. Appealing lists of "jobs" that are "well suited for you" but turn out to be various routes to tediousness and wild-goose chases followed by more spam.

    Or spend an hour filling out the 10-page application for a big corporation and watch your mailbox continue to fill with their job postings for months afterward, even after they reject or ignore your application multiple times.

    They dangle jobs in front of people the way Lucy holds out the football for Charlie Brown.

    I called in to The Leonard Lopate Show last year when he was interviewing Judith Warner about her New York Times Magazine article "The Opt-Out Generation Wants Back In."

    When I asked what she suggested for someone in my position, which, though not destitute, is a lower economic class than most of her reading audience, the answer was an acknowledgement that it's much harder in my case, and "we need legislation" to fix things. Thanks. So helpful -- just not in my lifetime.

    Knowing that life is unfair is one thing. Existing on the crummy end of that truth as a lifestyle designation is another thing altogether.

    Amongst the chronic losers lives a large population of former winners who were dealt several consecutive bad hands at the poker table of life and misplayed one or two of them. That's another chapter in the inequality epic, and a really important one. Money buys you the freedom to make mistakes and then recover.

    It's not an occasional knock that kills us; even big setbacks can be followed by rebounds. It's the chronic, year-on-year failures. The failure to progress, false starts, rejections....

    So what is the reward for chronic losing, as the title states? They are numerous, actually:

    • Being OK regardless. You live the reality that being happy is a choice and often requires determination (and decisive dismissal of your inner martyr).

  • Broad-spectrum understanding: You know more about life than people who have been very successful do, in the same way that less attractive women know more about men than pretty ones do.
  • Three words: compassion, compassion, compassion. It becomes your life blood. You learn how to live it, and to recognize it in others.
  • Three more words: humor, humor, humor. Find a way to laugh. Your life depends on it, and there is something funny to be found in most situations.
  • Humility, not humiliation. You become your own spin doctor as a survival tactic.
  • One extra bonus word: wisdom. It's real. And it kicks ass.
  • Of course, despite all these "rewards," I'm sure that most of the long-term unemployed ("most" meaning those with a pulse) would prefer some long-overdue relief and career success rather than receiving more "life lessons."

    And they deserve it. People have been beaten down too far, for too long. To use a famous boxing misquotation, I join you in declaring a collective "no más."

    But remember: If it seems you are walking into another losing battle, be sure to find your personal equivalent of selling ad space on the soles of your shoes, and do it.