Career Setbacks

Career Setbacks: How to Handle Unexpected Professional Adversity

Everyone has bad days at work from time to time. However, some days are far worse than others and create career setbacks that can feel like their impossible to overcome. If you’ve ever been laid off, passed over for a promotion, or formally reprimanded for your performance – you’ve experienced adversity. Furthermore, it’s safe to say you’ve had more than just a rough day at the office. Rather than wallowing in self-pity, you need to get back on your feet and figure out a way to get your career back on track. Throughout this post, we will discuss six steps that you can take to rebound from a career setback and start marching forward toward your goals.

6 Steps to Bounce Back from a Career Setback

1.) Acknowledge Your Feelings After a Career Setback

It’s vital that you take the time to wrap your head around what has happened. You also need to give yourself permission to feel upset. It’s also critical that you recognize and accept the emotions that you’re experiencing. If you fail to recognize your emotions and bottle them up instead, they will likely intensify and become more overwhelming.

  • Take the time to explore the unresolved issues that often develop in times of stress and setback. Do you have lingering self-doubts? What is your inner critic saying that makes you feel unworthy? However, you don’t want to overthink the situation because doing so could land you in a never-ending negative cycle.
  • You’ll also want to seek support and assurance from others following a career setback. It’s also important to have at least one person with whom you can talk about what’s happening. You may find that you need to let off some steam, or maybe need someone with whom to talk.
  • Lastly, no matter how upset, disappointed, angry, or discouraged you are in the moment, these feelings will pass.

2.) Reconsider Your View of Success

Career Setback Success Iceberg

Experiencing a career setback doesn’t mean that you’ve failed, or that you’re not successful. The situation you’re dealing with doesn’t dictate your value as a person or as a colleague.

  • Perception is reality, so take a step back and put the setback into perspective. This is only one incident in your career. Don’t let it fester and evolve into a catastrophe that will linger over you forever.
  • It’s important to practice rational and positive thinking when you are facing a challenge or difficult situation. You need your perspective well aligned with reality in order for it to be most effective!
  • Steer clear of negative thoughts. Don’t beat yourself up. Instead, remind yourself that you gave it a go and that it just didn’t work this time. Doing so will help to keep you focused on the positives.
  • Learn from the experience. Don’t view your career setback as a problem that you need to overcome. Focus on the opportunities that are now available instead.

3.) Sharpen Your Saw Following a Career Setback

Sharpen The Saw

Any sort of career setback is a great time to become better at what you do. Would improving your current skills help you become more effective? Maybe you need to broaden what you bring to the table and develop new skills. You may even find that it’s time to take your career in a different direction. Regardless of which route you pursue, this is the perfect time to start.

  • Identify any areas of your current role where you’re less than confident. Once you pinpoint your shortcomings, develop a plan on how you will address them. If you’re struggling to recognize areas in which you could improve, you can always seek advice from your manager. Many companies have internal development programs, so make the most of these opportunities. If not, you should look for avenues through which you can improve.
  • Think about the skills that have served you well in your career so far. What can you do to make sure they continue working for you? Is there anything outdated or no longer relevant on your list?
  • Think about your interests and passions. Doing so may inspire you to take your career in a new direction.

4.) Enhance Your Resilience

Career Setback Resilience

It’s critical to be mentally tough and maintain your professional composure both during and after a career setback. It’s even more important that you let your resilience shine. A resilient individual is more likely to bounce back when faced with adversity than someone who is more rigid.

Here are a few essential characteristics of resilience that you can develop on your own:

  • High Self-Efficacy: You have to believe in your ability to be successful. This is different than wanting, hoping, or trying. You need to expect success and set yourself up to make the most of the opportunities in front of you.
  • Positive Outlook: You need to stay optimistic about your future. Don’t allow your current situation to cloud your vision of yourself and your potential.
  • Introspection: It’s critical that you figure out what’s working and what isn’t working. You also need to understand that success requires flexibility. Furthermore, you also need to constantly look for ways to improve – if something isn’t working, then you need to try something different.
  • Control the Controllable: If you can’t change or control something, then don’t dwell on it and waste your energy. When you feel in control, focus on things that are in your wheelhouse. Focusing your energy on what you can control will make you less stressed and more confident! Keep taking action, even when self-doubt starts to creep up. It’s only temporary – take a few deep breaths before you take action.

5.) Figure Out What Went Wrong

Career Setback What Went Wrong

Your personal role in any setback will vary on a case-by-case basis. A massive, company-wide layoff is out of your control. However, termination or a reprimand for individual performance is something that you can control. Either way, it’s important that you take a deep dive into the situation to maximize your learning and move forward.

  • Start by identifying the elements of the career setback that were under your control and those that were not. Is your current (or past) position a good fit given your skillset? Do you have the necessary skills and experience in order to be successful in the role? Do you need additional training, experience, or some other form of development? Did your organizational leadership make cutbacks due to economic reasons?
  • Correct your mistakes and limit the damage as much as you can. This is of the utmost importance if your actions impacted others on your team.
  • Whatever you do, don’t blame others. This keeps you focused on the negative points of the situation and isn’t a constructive use of your energies.

6.) Take Action

Career Setback Take Action

When you know the factors that contributed to the setback, you can then develop an action plan that will help you get your career back on track.

  • Develop a strategy for your career. You have a fresh perspective and set of circumstances. What you formally believed and the direction you were heading may no longer apply. Carefully consider all of your options and determine those that provide the greatest potential. Brainstorm ideas, talk to your network, and explore a wide range of opportunities.
  • Break down your scheme into a detailed career plan. This is a great time to craft a series of incremental SMART goals based on what you’ve learned about yourself and what you need to improve.
  • Start working toward your goals right away – even if you haven’t overcome all of your negative feelings. Your self-confidence will increase with each step. You’ll be so motivated to keep going that it becomes infectious, and before you know it your self-confidence is through the roof!

Closing Thoughts

When you encounter a career setback, you need to understand that it’s not the end of the world. You’re not the first person to lose your job or to make a major mistake. However, you’re the only one who has the ability to turn the situation around and find the silver lining.

In order to recover from a setback, you need to follow a very doable six-step process:

  1. Acknowledge your feelings
  2. Expand your understanding of success
  3. Improve upon your current skillset
  4. Enhance your resilience
  5. Identify what went wrong
  6. Take action

Lastly, remember that you determine how much a setback holds you back.

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