Dealing with Career Setbacks

by Dec 20, 2016

We’ve all had to deal with setbacks at work. I can remember my first job as an eager employee at a bakery. I had turned up early for my first shift, excited and ready for the day. What unfolded was a series of embarrassing events which included (but were not limited to): dropping a tray of bread rolls, getting the loaf of bread stuck in the slicer, miscounting change and forgetting customer orders.

Cut to today: I’m not a baker. Nor do I work at a bakery. In fact, I can vividly recall my manager telling me that my first shift was a disaster and I was no longer needed, and would I please return the uniform (which I may or may not have been clutching at the time).

Since then, I have had a few changes and setbacks in my career – some bigger than others. But the point is, we’ve all been there. Maybe we were passed over for the internship we thought was ours for the taking, lost an important client or didn’t get the job we so badly wanted.

While understanding and acknowledging your feelings about rejection or setbacks is important to moving on, you can’t dwell on them. Being hurt or upset is one thing; being stuck in denial or spending years complaining is another.

Here are a few ways you can look at your situation in a more positive light:

Take time to deal with it

Allow yourself some time to deal with your feelings. It’s natural to be upset, angry, or sad when experiencing a setback. Try clearing your head, even for a short time, through exercise or taking time out to put it all in perspective. This will give you a little space from the initial setback, allow your emotions to cool, and let your rational side to regain control.

Be objective

Once you experience a setback, try to look at it objectively. Assess the situation to learn from it. Write down why you think the setback occurred and what you expected to happen. Whenever you face a setback, try and see the positives while addressing the elements to learn from or improve.

Get advice

Ask for help from trusted friends, colleagues or others for their input and feedback. Often, they can help you process and understand the feedback and take a balanced perspective.

Ask yourself what you can do differently

Once you have the feedback, ask yourself: Is the feedback about a behaviour I can do something about? What will happen if I do not act on the feedback? Do I accept it and what actions will I take? (Decide what actions you will take and begin working on a development plan).

Find a mentor

Think about approaching a mentor. A mentor in your line of work who has been successful has probably had to deal with some of the challenges you will face. Getting their advice on how they dealt with their setback and advice on what steps to take next.

Plan, plan, plan

Anticipate obstacles and try to have a contingency plan for them. If you prepare for them, you are viewing them as opportunities for growth rather than failures.

Get help

Speak with a career counsellor or consider engaging in therapy, both to clarify goals and to work on personal development.

After you identify possible next steps, it’s time to pick one. Admittedly, this can be a little frightening, especially if you’re venturing into unknown career territory. Reimagining your professional identity is one thing, bringing it to life is another. Thankfully, I realised that I could learn something from my experience at the bakery, and although the decision had been made for me, I’m still glad. It instilled a sense of resilience and made me work even harder at my next job.

So if I can do it, so can you!


Featured image courtesy of Unsplash.

By Monique Ryan

By Monique Ryan

Career Development Consultant

Monique Ryan is an experienced Career Development Consultant with over ten years experience within the university sector. Currently employed at UTS Careers, she is passionate about supporting students through employability programs and preparing them for work.