I’ve climbed six or seven mountains in Colorado called the Fourteeners because they’re all approximately 14,000 feet tall. I remember how each climb started. When you begin, you’re saying to yourself, “No way am I going to make it.” The valleys you see in front of you are picturesque but vast and very daunting! It feels insane until you get near the top, turn around and look back at the valleys you just crossed. There’s no magic to it other than putting one foot in front of the other and covering a tremendous amount of distance.
Not all of us take a straight path and know what we want right away. But you do eventually turn around and get to see the arc of your career, including where you picked up various skills for yourself.
That reflection after your journey reminds me a lot of the winding path a career can take. Including a setback that feels like a gut punch. Anybody who has been working for a fair amount of time has faced some degree of failure. Whether that’s to a large degree or a small one, setbacks inevitably happen throughout the course of your career.
For example, many of us have known the shock and pain of losing a job. Some folks will quickly feel like a victim and won’t be able to recover for a long time. It’s much harder for them to possess the mental fortitude to get up and make themselves better than they were before.
Fortunately, there are several ways that I believe you can equip yourself to come out the other end of those setbacks better and stronger.
1) Embrace The Humbling. If you have too much success early on in your career, you can become more arrogant than you’d like. That’s right about when something is lurking around the corner with a baseball bat, ready to knock you down. I call it The Humbling. I’ve experienced it several times and chances are, so have you.
It’s a wake-up call of an action to reveal what you’re doing wrong in the midst of other things going right. When The Humbling does happen, you almost have a sense of relief due to the fact that you’ve been given the opportunity to make a course correction.
Having sufficiently dusted yourself off, you begin to realize that you don’t have all the answers and that’s actually a good thing. You empathize with others better and can relate to people better. People who know you got back up off the canvas after being knocked down have high respect for that. That’s why they’re frequently drawn to you.
2) View Failure As A Learning Experience. It’s hard to take this perspective when the failure is fresh – let’s face it, you’re hurting a lot in that moment – but sooner rather than later, you should view the failure as anything but a personal condemnation. The sun will rise tomorrow and when it does, consider how much knowledge you’ve gained from the experience that will make you stronger going forward.
3) Be Proud Of Your Ability To Take A Chance. It’s too easy and comfortable to sit on the sidelines and do nothing. Failure entails making an effort and that’s to be commended. In the past, I’ve heard “If you’re going to fail, fail spectacularly.”
The message is clear: No matter what, at least you’re out there trying. And even though these failures don’t always feel good, if you look at it from all angles, you’ll discover aspects of that failure that you can think positively about in terms of your next steps from here.
4) Have Faith In Your Abilities. There are so many times when those little voices within you can take over – and they’ll be overwhelmingly negative. They’ll tell you that you’re not good enough or your big idea that you’re about to present to the Board will never work.
I’d encourage you to push those voices down so that for every time self-doubt creeps in, you instead constantly meet it with words of support and encouragement. Try “It’s going to work.” Or “I can’t wait to see what they think of these ideas.” Repeatedly visualize your success and tell yourself that today brings the opportunity and potential to share your knowledge with people who will benefit from it.
5) Take Inventory Of Your Strengths. We all fail but, surprisingly, not all of us use the time on our way back up to pause, reflect and take an honest inventory of our strengths. This may require a deep dive of self-exploration to discover what those strengths are and how to bring them out more often so they can be assets toward the next opportunity. You may even find that the failure you just experienced occurred because it didn’t play to your strengths.
6) Protect The Self-Confidence Sanctuary From Invaders. When I was starting GForce Staffing Services, I’d hear naysayers who brought the negative thoughts all the time, from “Do you know what you’re doing?” to “Are you profitable?” to “You know, most companies fail in their first few years.” I’d answer that last one with: “Well, this one isn’t going to fail.” It’s easy for someone on the outside with little to risk to second-guess you. Don’t let those skeptics scale the walls of the fortress protecting your self-confidence. There will always be those who offer advice and while some of it will be constructive, some of it will not apply exactly to what you’re going through right now.
Just like those 14,000 foot mountains in Colorado, the path ahead of you is probably a long one to take – even if you only have five years left to go in your career, five years is a long time and a lot can happen. If that entails a setback, I hope you keep these thoughts on bouncing back handy. You’re not defined by what you do but who you are. So if you’re unexpectedly no longer part of a workplace, remember that you’re not leaving behind a part of yourself. Because guess what’s coming with you? All the knowledge and experience you’ve gained along the way. Now get ready to thrive as you climb back up.
If you don’t mind opening up a little and sharing, how did you bounce back from a significant failure along the way in your career? What did you learn from the experience and how are you stronger today? Your insights may be very helpful to someone going through a similar challenge right now.