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Work & Purpose

How Tiny Wins Can Help an Older Job Seeker Weather Rejection

3 ways of rebuilding self-esteem through the successes of everyday life


When you’re looking for work after 50 and run into rejections, it’s easy to lose faith in yourself. Employers often send responses like this, which translate to failure and inadequacy: “We received applications from other highly qualified applicants whose skills are more suitable.” A suggestion: Try turning your attention to tiny wins in your daily life.

Tiny wins are the not-so-obvious successes that need to be celebrated. Maybe you tackled a new recipe and made an amazing meal for guests. Or you trained for months and ran your first two-mile marathon. Or you helped a community nonprofit achieve its fundraising goals. Or you nailed a crossword puzzle. Maybe you were able to make a lonely elder smile, just by being you.

Losing out on so many jobs has at times caused me to lose sight of my self-worth. But I’ve learned how to weather my job rejections through tiny wins based on my personal goals and interests.

Research on the Importance of Tiny Wins

Researchers have applied small wins to work settings to enhance employee motivation, too. In a 2011 Harvard Business Review article, “The Power of Small Wins,” Harvard Business School professor Teresa Amabile and writer Steven J. Kramer said: “Everyday progress — even a small win — can make all the difference in how [employees] feel and perform.”

Not believing in your value can lead to loss of willpower to fight for your best life.

For job seekers, tiny wins can be helpful because staying positive can be hard. People might say hurtful things like: “There are plenty of jobs out there. Why can’t you get a job? You should be able to get a job.”

Then, the employer’s dismissal of you reaches that critic’s voice inside your head. Pretty soon, you start believing that you’re not good at anything. Not believing in your value can lead to loss of willpower to fight for your best life. Worse, this can lead to emotional distress, depression and even become fatal.

Here are three ways to consider the small successes in daily life, using my own examples:

1. Embrace That You Are a Winner

After days, weeks and months filled with job-search defeat, I began to seek out ways to win at something — anything. I started by challenging my skills with online games.

As a writer who loves words, I’ve latched on to The New York Times daily Spelling Bee game (you see how many words you can make from its seven letters).

Another favorite is the sports ball challenge on the lovely e-card website of British artist Jacquie Lawson ($20 a year). Whenever I win, a neon message appears in the middle of the screen, saying “CONGRATULATIONS! YOU’RE A WINNER!” There have been times when I’ve fixated on this message, and its larger meaning.

When I first started playing the game, I’d think: “Who, me, a winner?” It took me a long time to accept those words, especially after a grueling day of job-search failure.

I’ve lost at these games, and lost again, but eventually I win. Over time, I have built my tolerance for failure, and keep trying. It’s all about not letting rejection destroy you and remembering that you are a winner.

2. Determine Your Own Type of Win

In my apartment building’s laundry room, there’s an ever-growing library of books donated by tenants. This summer, as books were piled onto the shelves to the point of disarray, I designated myself as building librarian to give the collection much-needed love and attention.

I now regularly and creatively stack and organize books by topic, height and color — maintaining an inviting shelf space. It’s an ongoing project that gives me a sense of personal accomplishment. A bonus: I see that tenants are now reading the books.

With this small win, no one rates how well I’m doing organizing the bookshelves. I don’t expect compliments. In fact, most tenants have no idea who’s been straightening the shelves. What matters to me is what I regard as my success.

I cherish my time organizing those shelves, especially after a day of job rejections from companies that could actually benefit from my organizational skills.

3. Remember What You Do Well

The hospitality and meetings industries have always been in my career DNA. In my 20s, I easily found work in these industries, including at two top New York hotels. In my 30s, I became a global conference director for associations and a corporate events consultant for major companies. In my 50s, job rejections increased  and my ability to get work in my field diminished. Rather than discard the work that had defined my earlier career, I have realized how daily tiny wins have helped me.

I started noticing that whenever I walk through hotels and conference floors, I do it with a professional eye for organization and service. I greet hotel staff and tourist guests as though I work in the hotels I visit. Guests often ask me for directions and sightseeing suggestions, and I’ve provided helpful ideas to meeting organizers that they’ve seemed to appreciate.

These tiny wins keep my identity grounded. I’ve recognized my worth in being of service to others as a professional with rich experience.

My Advice to You

If you, too, are applying for jobs and getting turned down, think about how you can find tiny wins in your life. Wins equal progress.

Would one of your daily wins be of interest to an HR person or a recruiter? No, not in the least. But your personal wins aren’t about achievements on your resumé to impress employers. They’re about impressing yourself about you, and the gifts you have.

By maintaining belief in your self-worth, you’ll recognize that an employer lost its chance by not hiring you. And by taking care of your well-being, you can turn those tiny wins into big successes that just may change your life.

holly lawrence
By Holly Lawrence

Holly Lawrence is a freelance writer and contributor on well-being and issues affecting older adults. Twitter: @hollyjlawrence and connect on LinkedIn.

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