The “It’s Your Career” series at Management Excellence is dedicated to offering ideas, guidance and inspiration for your professional pursuits. Use the ideas in great career health!
Just about everyone I know has experienced a career setback at some point in time. Whether it’s the recognition that you made a poor choice or, you’ve been downsized, right-sized, outsourced and off-shored or, flat-out terminated, these often unexpected segues are painful. The challenge is to move beyond the pain and self-pity to something much more productive as quickly as possible.
Your natural inclination following a setback is to continue to replay the film reel over and over in your mind, looking for your missteps. This counter-productive process plays mind games with you. One client indicated she was having imaginary conversations with her ex-boss over and over again in her mind, working herself into a “would-have/could-have/should-have” bout of anxiety. Another individual remained in his darkened apartment and ordered in for about a week. He gained 10 pounds and in his words, “accomplished nothing but creating extreme gastric distress from his eating and endless review of the sequence of events that led to his termination.”
You cannot eat your way out of your past mistakes or bad luck, and no matter how articulate you become in your mind, your imaginary discussions won’t change the outcome. It’s time to do something other than sit and sulk.
7 Ideas to Help You Begin Moving Beyond a Career Setback:
1-Quit Looking for the Time Machine. I’ve been searching for one of these for years, but they don’t exist. You cannot go back and undo what has happened. If you were blindsided, acknowledge the unfortunate turn of events. If you were a party to a career crime, recognize your mistakes and culpability and put the experience in your rear-view mirror.
2-Turn off the Endless Film Loop. Reviewing the lowlights over and over again only breeds internal anguish and somatic symptoms. Pull the plug.
3-You’re More than Your Job or Title. It’s natural to feel like you’ve lost your identity. You need to remind yourself that it wasn’t your job, it was your firm’s. You were paid for your work and you have no claim on the job, the title, the former team members and the projects you were working on. They’re not yours. They never were. Let them go.
4-Get Physical. Immediately. The world feels different after physical exertion. If you’re out of shape, visit the Doctor and gain permission to get started. If you’ve been a weekend warrior in the gym, take it up about three notches. One professional described his workouts as his “corporate detox program.” The positive effects on your mind and body will alter your mood for the better with every workout.
5-Recognize that Sometimes (Often) these Events are Blessings. Unless you just give up, you will end up somewhere. While it sounds like a cliché, I’ve lost count of the number of people who have reported ending up somewhere better than where they were as a consequence of the setback. I recently ran into someone I fired 10 years ago. Not certain what to expect, I was pleasantly surprised when he greeted me with, “I’ve been wanting to thank you for the past 8 years.” After discussing his latest successful venture, I reminded him that the event was a decade old. He looked at me and smiled, and said, “I know.”
6. Explore a Pivot. For many mid or late-career professionals, a setback offers a window of time to explore different directions. Don’t just think about exploring them, dig in and do your research and fieldwork. Consider taking on an role in the general zip code of your interest as part of your research. For a brief moment, you have the time to explore options and consider embarking upon a fresh journey.
7. You Were Just Knocked Down—Get Back Up. Nothing solves a problem like deliberate action. Put your skills and energy to work building a plan to get to your next step and then get started. Build a search and networking plan and execute it. Carefully craft a message to deal with the eventual awkward question of what happened. Acknowledge what you’ve learned, don’t lay blame and indicate how this is fueling your drive to strengthen and contribute. Don’t let the fear of these discussions keep you from moving ahead.
The Bottom-Line for Now:
This too shall pass. The gravitational pull of self-pity is powerful and it’s something you have to fight with all of your being. A setback doesn’t define you unless you let it. The future is yours to create one day and one adventure at a time.
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