Many of us have been let go unceremoniously, though perhaps not as visibly as Jill Abramson, ex-CEO of the New York Times. Maybe you didn’t get a promotion, lost a key client, watched a valued employee leave to join a competitor or watched as they became one!
I did not get into my first choice college, did not get many of the jobs I interviewed for, was laid off in a RIF, lost a client who was almost 30% of my work, and watched a colleague take my work and pass if off as their own.
Setbacks can make us not only feel like we are not making progress – but that we are moving in the other direction. Setbacks suck.
It makes sense to be sad when you stumble professionally but you can create real problems if you spend too much time ruminating. You need time to deal with what you are feeling so give yourself time to be angry, scared, or sad. And then —
Accept that setbacks are part of life. Few people are destroyed when things take a negative turn. I’ve had clients tell me that they have never experience this kind of person or that kind of problem in their entire career. I find myself thinking that while it comes as a surprise to them, it’s statistically due.
I’ve gotten better at the pivot required that takes me from feeling like a victim or a survivor to figuring out how to thrive. Setbacks are often a springboard to success if you know how to use them in that way.
Paint a Picture – No one can predict the future with 100% accuracy, but focusing on the present can be depressing. There is little point to reviewing over and over again how you ended up in the situation you find yourself in. Focus on a better future. If you can create the picture of what you’d like to see, you have a better chance of succeeding. Focus on a future that excites and energizes you.
Be a Learner – A setback does not define you. You can learn from the experience and become smarter; what it requires is that you reflect on what has happened. If there was a huge gap between what you expected to happen and what actually occurred, then assess what transpired and determine if there were clue along the way or things you might have done differently. Reach out to trusted friends, mentors, advisors and colleagues. They are often the best combination of support and objectivity. Based on feedback, input, observations, and perhaps even a coach/consultant/mentor, figure out what you need to do to deal effectively with the setback. Rather than a reaction, this should be a proactive result based on what has occurred and what you want to happen next. It’s not about perfection, it’s about progress. I have yet to meet anyone who couldn’t learn something new.
Redefine Success – How do you define success? Setbacks are a lesson in revamping how you define achievement. You might define it as an impressive title, a high-end car, a diploma from a particular school, or earning a tremendous salary. These are fine goals, but not attaining them doesn’t mean you are a failure. It means that you should rewrite your definition of success. Rather than a fixed definition, success can be revised as you experience growth.
Stay In the Game – Maintain an upbeat outlook. Not a phony ‘everything is sunshine and rainbows’ view of things, but hopeful. I’ve worked with CEO’s who have had to lay employees off, manage a merger, or reorganize the organization and all found it to be painful and depressing. While that may be the truth, employees don’t want to see a lot of that. They want a leader who is confident, calm, and cheerful. It’s especially challenging to get out there and be seen when others know you’ve had a setback. Having the professional discipline to pick yourself up and figure out how to put your best foot forward is not easy but it is essential. New opportunities don’t come to your house, knock on your door and say ‘I’ve been looking for someone like you.” You have to go find them. You’ll have a better chance of attracting the next good option if you look like someone others want to bet on.
Setbacks are only detours. There are lots of ways you can still move forward. In the words of the Dali Lama, John Lennon, and Sonny (played by Dev Patel in The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel), “Everything will be all right in the end… if it’s not all right then it’s not yet the end.”