It’s fine to celebrate success but it is more important to heed the lessons of failure.
Sure, those are wise words coming from the co-founder of the world’s largest software business. Though, the reality is that not everyone will build the next Microsoft—and when you’re struggling to cope with a bad professional career movie, it can feel like the world is crumbling around you.
I’m speaking from experience. After I totally blew a great opportunity to be promoted, I remember parking my golden oldie burgundy Mitsubishi Magna outside my local McDonalds and gobbling down a caramel sundae like there was no tomorrow.
But hey, after the shock settled in, the Earth continued turning, and that epic disaster sorted itself over the next couple of weeks. So, to help you get some pep back into your step after a major professional disaster, here are some common crises—and why they’re not necessarily game over for your career.
1. Doing Something That Gets You Fired
Being fired might seem like the absolute worst thing that can happen in your career. But in hindsight, after the shock passes, you’ll realize there is a big learning opportunity here. Maybe you posted something inappropriate on social media, or maybe you have been in over your head since day one, or maybe the position was never quite the right fit for you.
Losing your job burns, but it doesn’t mean your entire career is over. I’m pretty sure that those people who monopolize an entire news cycle because of poor Twitter judgment and then lose their jobs think twice before posting anything controversial again. Or the person who is fired because he was late every day (even after multiple warnings)—let’s assume he came up with a new morning routine. In other words, you learn and you’ll be a better employee in future jobs.
The real blessing here (one that you may only see in hindsight), is you’re far better off moving on to the next chapter in your career as opposed to lingering in a job that isn’t right just because it’s providing you with a steady income. And, there’s really no other red, blinking, not-for-you sign like getting sacked.
If you’re still feeling a little hopeless, remember: Oprah Winfrey got fired once upon a time, and things worked out fine for her.
2. Realizing the Dream Job You Worked for Is Not Your Dream
All that glitters is not necessarily gold.
Who would leave a fairly secure job with a big paycheck and tons of growth potential? I would—I mean, I did—once I realized I had a total lack of passion for what I was doing on a daily basis.
For years, I had dreamed of landing a well-paid, corporate gig. But once I got there, I realized I’m not the pantsuit, high-heeled, fancy manicure kind of employee.
Sure, it took a while to accept that everything I’d worked hard for wasn’t really what I wanted. And it was scary to be honest with myself that I actually hated everything I’d been working toward. But as soon as I admitted that I was unhappy and threw in the towel, I was able to get to the truth of what I really wanted to do.
Six months later, I’m doing what I truly love doing and am running a business I never would’ve started if everything went according to plan. It stinks when a job isn’t what it’s cracked up to be, but if you learn more about where you want to go with your career (and not just what job title you want), it’s incredibly worthwhile.
3. Making a (Big) Mistake
No matter what your boss—or inner critic—says, most mistakes won’t end your business or your career. But they still feel pretty terrible.
In a prior role as the editor of a magazine, we were churning out two issues at once to cover the December/January holiday period. And, somehow, the Christmas theme that was going to hook readers in at a quick glance was accidentally left off December’s front cover.
It was embarrassing, and I felt like all of my hard days and nights working to meet the deadline were wasted. But in hindsight, these things happen. No one died. The company didn’t fold because of my oversight. Failing (big) can actually inspire you to be more fearless in your career. Because once you learn a mistake isn’t the end of the world, you know you can try—and fail—big again (and within reason).
As long as you learn from your errors (we never forgot Christmas on a cover again!), mistakes are what lead you to developing new problem solving skills and evolving as an employee. And at some point, it will help you become an even more understanding manager.
4. Being Passed Over for a Job You Deserve
There are a lot of people in this world, and while you may be talented, so is everyone else. Competition is fiercer than ever whether you’re the next Stephen King, the next Taylor Swift, or the next employee of the year.
After graduating with a degree in Journalism, it really sucked to have to spend time coating donuts with cinnamon sugar (that didn’t last long), or cold-calling customers for months as rats skittered cheekily above me (true story), because it took me way longer than expected to get a job in my desired field of work.
But I kept trying. As a writer—and in many other roles—you have to be resilient. You’ll be told no over and over, but you have to keep pitching. You’ll get the message that you’re no good, or that you are good, just not good enough.
You need to continue getting yourself back out there and finding people who you want to work with, who want to work with you, too. If you give up, that’s all she wrote (literally). But if you get passed over, try again, and succeed, you’ll find out how badly you really want something—and how hard you’re willing to work to get it. You’ll also figure out that what you want might not be what you should do, and that it’s time to start looking into other careers. Either way, it’s a good opportunity to think hard about your next steps.
So, the next time you feel like you’re at professional rock bottom, accept it and do whatever you need to in order to survive. Remember that the only place to go is up—and you’re already on your way.