It’s not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters.” -Epictetus
We have all faced some type of career setback in our lives.
Some of us experienced it during the 2008 Financial Crisis, or the dot-com bubble in 2000, and some of us during the current oil crisis.
Downsizing or lay-offs are inevitable in today’s workplace. No one is immune.
Or perhaps you have been fired from your job, or the career you embarked on did not pan out the way you expected.
Regardless of whether the setback is macro-economical or personal -setbacks do occur to all of us. If you haven’t faced it yet – you will eventually face some type of career setback in your life.
I do not mean to come across as a downer, but that it the unfortunate reality about the job market.
The most important thing is how you bounce back from a career setback.
My goals with this post to provide some practical action items (not fluffy feel-good stuff) that you can take when faced with a similar predicament.
1. Pause & Reflect
Before you do anything, take a moment to reflect and understand the situation.
Let’s say that you are affected as a result of a company-wide downsizing – take a moment to assess the situation. Why is this happening? Is it because of the industry or is it because of your current company?
If the entire industry is affected, then perhaps it is time to re-invent yourself. We have seen this happen many times in history. The entire horse carriage industry was disrupted by automobiles. And those workers eventually did find some type of employment. Perhaps, you need to acquire some new skills/certifications. Perhaps you need to sharpen your communication skills.
If you lost your job, because your company is cutting costs or because it got acquired. And if your skill-set is still relevant in the industry – then it will not be difficult to obtain gainful employment. Recently Twitter went through a massive restructuring. The ex-Twitter Engineers may not have too much difficulty in obtaining a position in another technology company.
If the reason was personal – you were fired because of poor performance – it is vital that you find out why. Ask for an exit interview and get the real reasons why you were let go. It will shed some valuable experiences. Perhaps there was some personality conflict or lack of technical skills. Use that as a guide to help sharpen your skills. At least, you will have learned what type of company or boss not work for.
I believe that this step is crucial before you move forward to whatever you are going to do next.
It is important to understand the areas that you can improve so that you don’t make the same mistakes again.
2. Get Support
Don’t let your ego or machismo get in the way. There are numerous organizations, online support forums, and groups that will help you with the grief of losing your job. Some are government-funded and some are even paid by your past employers.
Friends & families are also a good source of support. Sometimes, getting your frustrations off your chest is extremely therapeutic. During tough times, it feels good to know that you can lean on others for emotional support. At the least, having someone lend their ears for a few minutes does a lot for your mental health.
This type of support is more emotional & psychological, and it helps you put things into perspective.
More importantly, dare to ask your friends & ex-colleagues for honest feedback. Don’t just use this as bitch-and-whine session. They might provide some insights & ideas that will guide you to hone your craft and skill-set.
A word of caution – do not stay in this phase for too long. Some people enjoy wallowing in self-pity for weeks & even months because they love the attention they are receiving. Even though complaining endlessly feels good, it rarely accomplishes anything.
A friend of mine recently got down-sized from his current company. The next day he called me and we chatted for an hour. In that 1 hour, he vented & let all his frustrations out. The next time I spoke to him was a week after that call. He had already prepared his resume & had lined up multiple interviews. I am confident that he will be able to secure his next career move because he took positive action immediately. And he did not waste too much time in this phase.
A similar thing happened to another acquaintance & ex-colleague of mine. He was let go from a company where he worked for more than 5 years. This incident happened 3 years ago. He is yet to bounce back from that career setback. Even today, when we speak to him – he is wallowing in self-pity; and he is bitter about the job market. And with that attitude coupled with lack of sufficient action – he finds it difficult to gain a good career after that incident.
3. Find Inspiration
Almost everyone who has made any type of worthwhile success has faced some type of career setback, at one point. Every master was once a disaster.
My favorite bounce back story is about Henry Ford.
His first company as a car manufacturer failed.
He then partnered with few investors to start another company. Henry Ford wanted to make a car for the ordinary man, his partners had other plans wherein they wanted to make cars of the rich. He eventually parted ways with them (and that company continued to operate as Cadillac).
He then partnered with someone else to start the company that eventually made him a success, and employed thousands of people.
There are numerous stories like this. I recommend you read and learn from other’s experiences, failures, setbacks, disappointments, and successes.
Another thing I recommend is creating or joining the Mastermind Group. Find like-minded individuals who want to forge strong and successful careers.
It is important to associate with others who are growth-minded. Success rubs off on others. For 3 years I have been part of a Mastermind Group wherein we meet regularly and discuss each other’s weekly successes. The members of the group have shared their career successes many times. This inspires me to work on my own career success story.
4. Set Goals
As much as we think about the past, there isn’t much you can do about it.
The fact is that it will never come back. We do not have a time machine where we can go back and make changes. We all have career regrets. Trust me, if there was a time-machine every individual would want to go back and undo some of their career mistakes.
The logical thing you can do is to focus on the future. And you can take action today (the present) to make that future a reality. You have a strong degree of control over how your future is shaped.
This is where goal-setting comes handy. If someone else has done something before, this is a good indication that others can do it too. You can do it too.
Set Career Goals – the type of work you want, the sort of responsibilities you would like to have, the type of income you want to make, the type of office you want to work in, etc.
Then do your research, plan the steps required, and then take action to make it a reality.
About 3 years ago (in 2013) I decided I wanted to work in Software Sales. I loved technology and I loved Sales – and I found that selling Enterprise Software is the best way for me to have a fulfilling career. From what I heard the money was also good.
I applied to almost every Software Sales job in Toronto. I did not get my ideal job immediately. It took me 2 years – 3 jobs and 2 career changes to eventually crack into software sales. It was disappointing that each time I applied & interviewed (for various reasons) I was not given a shot. The path was not direct but I was able to finally get into a https://ca.linkedin.com/in/nissarahamed.
So keep your head up. Focus on your ideal career and work your way towards it. The fact that you take focused action towards it will help you realized that goal.
5. Get to Work
No – seriously get to work. I am not kidding here.
Getting caught in a sudden career setback can be devastating – emotionally, mentally, and financially. And our confidence can take a toll when this happens. I have been there myself. Sometimes, it can take weeks & months to get your confidence back. It often seems like there is no light at the end of the tunnel.
It is extremely easy to get caught up in the downward spiral. Some of us like to dabble in self-pity (and trust me it is addicting and comforting). However, it is important to break out of that routine and keep moving forward.
Start Immediately. Work on your resume, get some help if you need it. Come to my blog and read similar posts (sorry for the shameless plug lol).
Reach out to Recruiters. Scour your LinkedIn connections. Reach out to your ex-colleagues and friends for connections. I think this is relatively simple but many of us let our egos get in the way. Most of our friends are more than willing to help.
And start applying for jobs. I always recommend being multi-faceted with your job hunt. Try multiple methods until you are successful.
Sometimes, you might decide that going back to work may not be the best option. Perhaps self-employment or entrepreneurship is the ideal path for you.
A friend of mine recently was let go from his employer. After some introspection, he resolved that he did not want to go back & work for someone else.
He wanted to become a real estate investor & a property manager. He invested his savings into a project, spent a few months renovating the property, and then finding tenants. It took him a few months but eventually, the project was complete. The proceeds & cash flow from the property take care of most of his living expenses.
I recently spoke to him and he is now working on obtaining his Realtors License. He has pivoted his career into self-employment.
Regardless of which direction you take, for crying out loud – take some action. All the planning, dreaming, goal-setting will be useless unless & you take some solid action.
I hope you found the ideas & insights regarding career setbacks resourceful.
If you did, kindly forward this to someone whom you think can benefit from reading this.
Also, feel free to comment below!!
P.S. I was inspired to write this post today after watching this video. Perhaps this will also provide you with some additional motivation.