How to Deal with a Professional Setback

Dealing with setbacks at work can be one of the most difficult things to experience and can also have a negative effect on personal and professional life.

How to Deal with a Professional Setback
How to Deal with a Professional Setback

Major setbacks in a professional career can be devastating. Most of us have experienced career setbacks at some or the other point in our lives. Setbacks can take many forms, such as losing a client or a customer, missing a big promotion or even getting fired. Some of these can be psychologically and/or physically traumatic. It may even feel like the end of your career.

Even though career setbacks are impossible to predict, what we can control is how we respond to them.  Developing mental resilience and a growth mindset can help you face bad times with equanimity and even use them as stepping stones.

Professional Setbacks and their Mental Health Fallout

When a setback happens, most of us are caught off guard, especially if we consider ourselves good at our job, have always got good performance reviews, have a good track record, and fit well with our team and the company. In such cases, it can be a major disappointment to face a setback like being passed over for a promotion.

A few of the most common emotions we feel due to a career setback are fear, worry, panic, anger and shock. It can be hard to control our feelings at that particular movement. Most of us don't know how to deal with a setback at work.

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Here are a few ways to handle a setback.

Tips to Handle a Setback at Work

Control the knee-jerk emotion

We first experience a knee-jerk emotional reaction to the current situation. At that point, we might act in a way that may not benefit anyone. It is not a good idea to show our disappointment or other intense emotions at the place of work.

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Try to face all the facts

If you are going through something unexpected, it is better to be realistic about the next few steps. Do not try to dodge uncomfortable things or blame others for what happened to you. That is not going to solve anything; instead, it will make things much harder in the future.

Support your colleagues
Support your colleagues

Get support from your colleagues, friends or family.

If you need to vent your thoughts, which you are entitled to, then talk to your co-workers, someone in the same position as you. They may understand what you are going through better than anyone else can. You can also talk to your family, friends, and other people outside your work.  

Having a good support system can provide an empathetic ear and, more importantly, give you a different view or an insight into your situation.

Learn from your experience

You should not dwell on having a setback for a long time; instead, try to identify what this experience has taught you. Try to get more feedback from the situation. Most employers would want to know if the setback has taught you anything and if you are ready to move on. There will always be something that you can take away from any negative situation.

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Analyse the reason behind the setback

Dealing with setbacks can be difficult. But we still need to ask ourselves some tough questions like “Why did I get passed over for a promotion” or “what was my actual contribution to that project.” It is important to ask ourselves more questions because sometimes they may give us a different perspective. We may even notice something we did not see before.

Most of the time, you do not have any influence or control over your employer's decision. You may even realise that the position you want is probably not the perfect fit for you. Whatever the reason may be, you may at least gain a new sense of career direction by analysing.

If you think you are not a good fit, you can look into what improvements to your portfolio or resume. Does it lack any specific skill set, knowledge or experience? Look at areas where you can make any type of improvement

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Evaluate your options
Evaluate your options

Evaluate your options

Ok, a setback has happened. So, now what? Now that you understand why exactly this particular setback has happened, you need to know how to deal with the setback.

It is now time to evaluate all the options you have. Do you want to stay with the company or get a new job? Or do you want to stay in the same position, look for new opportunities, or work towards a different goal?

At any point, you will always have a choice. Ultimately, you have the power to choose. Before making a choice, you need to figure out what you want and take a step in that direction. Try to get more clarity on what your next steps would be.

Close the gap from where you are to where you want to be

Once you get some clarity on what you want, your next step would be to figure out how to get there. What do you think is missing to get to where you want to be? If it is a skill you lack, how will you learn it? If you do not have a good professional network, how do you need to improve? Try to make a clear plan on how to close the gap.

Try to avoid any negative influences

Do not mentally keep reliving all the bad things that have happened to you at work. Try not to hang out with other disgruntled employees or complain excessively to others at work. This behaviour will only negatively affect you and can even tarnish your name and image.

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