Rebounding after a career setback

Just read an interesting article in Harvard Business Review about rebounding from career setbacks. Many will encounter career setbacks – not getting the promotion that was hoped, even expected, as an example. When this happens the emotions are raw and the person may go through the stages of loss, as the psychiatrist Elisabeth Kubler-Ross defined in her research on grief – what is commonly referred to in the business world as the “change curve”. First you may experience shock and denial, followed by anger at the company, maybe bargaining with the boss and then, gradually, acceptance.

The research suggests that you need to take a long hard look out figuring out why you lost out – that’s if you got to the acceptance stage without having left the company. Social psychologists have found that in decades’ worth of research that high-achievers take too much credit for their successes and assign too much external blame to their failures. It’s a type of attribution that protects self-esteem but also prevents learning and growth.
Trying to work out why you were passed over involves more that talking to sympathetic friends and colleagues who reinforce the self-image saying things like “You deserved that job” or feeding the sense of injustice “You have every right to be angry”. To rebound effectively, and to learn, you’ll need to take a different approach and positively and constructively solicit feedback from the people you work with – your management team, colleagues and even direct reports. This can be difficult as, in the spirit of openness, they might reveal some truths that you find hard to hear. But this feedback can help identify ways for you to develop you can start to reframe those losses into opportunities. This all sounds terribly corporate but there’s some truth in this. Having self-knowledge is the key to moving on and identifying new paths. It’s useful to take time to test out new ideas and new possibilities and this is where career coaching can help.
Resilience and adaptability are some of the core ingredients when it comes to career success, but these qualities don’t come easily or naturally to everyone, which is why it’s useful to understand the processes of change and have some clear steps to follow after a setback. This approach can help transform the anger and self-doubt associated with failure in to something far more positive and open up new opportunities either within your own organisation or move constructively on to something else.
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