How To Overcome A Career Setback

How To Overcome A Career Setback

*inhale, exhale.*

On taking wise words from Aaliyah, daydreaming about changing your LinkedIn profile, and thinking big despite the naysayers.

Back in March, I wrote a few notes on the things I’d learned in my (short but fairly substantial) life thus far. One of those lessons was how to be excited – and not anxious – about my future, and especially about my career. But how easy is it to get excited about something when you feel like it’s not happening?

Unless you’re some sort of magical infallible superhuman, you will 100% have experienced some sort of career setback at some point in your life. I, for one, have personally had my fair share of disappointments in this year alone(!) but I’m slowly learning how to bounce back from the “no”s and “you can’t”s and pursue my goals regardless. That is, provided procrastination doesn’t get the better of me.

Not getting the desired outcome in your working life – whether it’s a missed job opportunity, a rejection letter, or being passed over for a promotion – is hard. But those events needn’t be the be all and end all of where you want to go. I’ve set out six of my favourite “notes to self” for every time I’m disappointed by mini “failures” in my career, and hope that these will be as useful to you as they are to me.


What is the long term/macro picture? 

For those of you who caught my recent post on the best podcasts to supercharge your daily routine, I hope you got a chance to check out The Gary Vee Audio Experience by media mogul (and general all-round awesome human) Gary Vaynerchuk.

Gary talks a lot about micro and macro career moves, and the basic idea is this: you have to think about the bigger picture and stress less about the day to day minutiae. Yes, you may have experienced what you believe to be a career setback right now. But does this totally take you off course when it comes to the larger goal? Perhaps not. Think big. Think broad.

We all fail, and we fail a lot. But if each time you fall down you decide to get back up and try again, chances are you’ll get to where you need to be over time.

(There’s an interesting YouTube vide from Gary Vee on macro/micro moves – click here and skip to 5:25 to watch.)


Think laterally.

The moment I figured out where I wanted to be in the long-term, I became (ever so slightly) less stressed about the more immediate disappointments I experienced. Think about it: is there just one single route from your home to your office? Nah. Does your sat nav stop working the minute your car makes a wrong turn? Nah. The same thing applies with your career: as my dad always says to me, “there is always a way.” It just might not be the most obvious route, and it might even be a lengthier or more costly route, but more often than not the alternative option is there. It all depends on whether you want to take it or not.



If at first you don’t succeed…

One thing I have learned whilst being in the working world – and especially when I was making applications for the first time – is that if you fail once, there is zero harm in trying again.

Maybe you got rejected for a job. Apply again. Apply better. Send another email to the manager/founder/whoever is in charge. Make another call. Low key hassle them (but obviously don’t go too far!) Sometimes persistence is key to getting the powers that be to hear you out and reconsider you.


Keep an open mind…

If I got a penny for every time someone has said that I shouldn’t “put all of my eggs into one basket”, I would honestly be rich. I don’t know about you, but I can be pretty stubborn when it comes to what I want. Because of this, keeping an open mind when it comes to my career options (and thinking laterally as mentioned above) can be quite the challenge for me.

But sometimes it’s important to remember that there are so many roads to success beyond the one you have your heart set on. You might actually find in hindsight that the destination, though different to what you originally planned, is a million times better suited to you.

So take the lemons you scored from that “loss”, create the most awesome lemonade recipe the world has ever seen, make some bomb ass lemonade and sell that drinks brand for millions. Easy.*



…but don’t ever settle.

Even though it’s important to keep an open mind as mentioned in point 1 above, there’s a subtle difference between thinking broadly and giving in altogether. Or worse, allowing others’ opinions to distract you from attaining that seemingly impossible career goal. This is quite a personal pain point for me because I have seen so many people either give up on their dreams or push through because of or in spite of the fears of everyone around them.

Experiencing a career setback might just be the very thing that someone in your circle will run with in order to tell you (for the Nth time) that “maybe you should do X instead” or “I think maybe you need to do Y now”. Of course, be smart. If something’s not working, take a step back: put down your sentiments for a moment and assess why. But don’t ever settle into something you don’t really want just because there was an obstacle in front of the main goal the first time you checked. The people around you don’t always know “what’s best for you”, regardless of how old or wise they may be. And as I mentioned in point 3 above (and as the wise, late Aaliyah put it so well), there’s often no harm in dusting yourself off and trying again (again again).


Were you in control?

A few weeks ago I came across an opportunity which I honestly believe would have been an absolute game changer for my career. I showed initiative and pitched hard. I proved to the powers that be that I was more than capable for it. I got the go ahead to take it on. I got excited. I even made plans for the day that I would update my LinkedIn page (cheesy I know, but I was so gassed). And then I got a call to say that I couldn’t do it anymore.

I was absolutely gutted. But now that I have gotten most of the disappointment out of my system, I am able to hold my head up high because I know that I put my best foot forward and did everything in my power to secure the opportunity, just before it was taken away.

Sometimes a career setback will happen to us for reasons totally outside of our control. But instead of dwelling on the L (which will actually affect your ability to recalculate and move forward positively), take pride in the knowledge that you fought the damn fight regardless.

What are some of the ways that you overcome a disappointing setback in your career? Share below!


*I giggled a bit as I wrote this line. It is most definitely not “easy”. But worth a try.