By now, you’ve had numerous successes, you’re building momentum in your career, and your peers – and leaders - trust and admire you. Life is good and you’re way ahead of your career schedule, accomplishing more than even you imagined.
Then something happens.
A brilliant idea is rejected because your organization is changing directions. Or you lose out on a big promotion. Maybe you get a new boss. Or you are given ‘constructive’ feedback on your performance that you didn't see coming.
Whatever it is feels very personal to you. Anyone who tells you not to take things personally at work is full of shit. If your heart is not engaged in how you spend each day, you’d be wise to look for another job that warrants your emotional attachment.
Having said that, you must also learn to manage disappointment. This is critical to your career, and the way you handle setbacks will determine how, or if, you continue to move ahead.
Yes, I know, I know.
‘But they made the wrong decision in changing directions’
‘I knew someone would sabotage me’
'I can’t depend on this company anymore’
My own experience has taught me that one of two things happen following a career disappointment. People withdraw, blame others and lose both confidence and momentum. Or, they realize that change is often unpredictable, so they recalibrate and adjust in order to maintain professional progress.
Two years ago, I lost out on a promotion and I was devastated. For the next year, I lost valuable time and energy grieving instead of looking for new ways to move forward. My heart was no longer engaged in the process. No one had sabotaged me, but I almost sabotaged myself by indulging my disappointment too long.
Tips I've learned for managing professional disappointment:
1) Give yourself time to process what has happened and just generally feel bad. Your emotions will come out anyway, so you’re better off dealing with them honestly. Take a week. A month at the very most. Then get back in the game.
2) Reassess the political environment. Learn why things changed and what impacted the new priorities. Ask with an open mind, and you’ll find the answer.
3) Once you have this information, lay low for a few weeks as you’re putting together a new plan. Avoid jumping to immediate solutions because you’re not doing your best thinking after a setback. Be deliberate and strategic.
4) Regardless of your personal opinion, support the change in direction and/or leadership and help your colleagues do the same. That’s what leaders do. Work through your disappointment with your partner, a trusted, non-work friend or your therapist. Never with a colleague and never, ever with a subordinate.
5) Spend time indulging yourself in a non-work interest. When the ego is bruised, creativity suffers. Reconnect with your imagination by resuming an old hobby or picking up a new one.
6) Let yourself swear a little. A heartfelt f-bomb can be the best therapy on earth. Outside of work, of course. Your dog will understand.
Unforeseen Challenge: This always surprises me, but a few people will be quite pleased to see that you’ve finally been put it your place. They can hardly wait to share their pearls of wisdom with you in a parental, condescending tone. ‘I thought you were moving a little fast,’ or ‘that seemed like a pretty wild idea,’ or, my personal favorite, ‘I could have told you that wouldn’t work.’ You may be tempted to use one of your therapeutic f-bombs here, but try to take the high road and give them their moment. Ultimately, it costs you nothing.
Challenges are part of any career that is advancing quickly. Just remember that you have the ability to keep moving forward, even if all the signs in front of you say otherwise. Next time you have a setback, consciously practice resilience, guide your momentum back on course and you will re-emerge stronger than ever.
image from roberfagan.com