How To Survive Career Disaster
Most of the articles I write are about safeguarding your career so you remain in the drivers seat and are less likely to face career calamities, but even with the greatest focus on your career, disaster can strike.
The fabulous manager you had moves on and is replaced by someone who just doesn’t get you; your role gets moved to the other side of the state and you don’t want to or can’t move; the technology you are an expert in is suddenly outdated; the political, management or organisational will for your line of work disappears; your role is let go or made surplus and redundant.
Here are three do’s and three don’ts to keep in mind to help you survive.
Make it personal
Isolate yourself (but don’t surround yourself with people who fuel anger, denial or bargaining)
Violate your own values
Find ways to stay creative and search for solutions (rather than focus on problems)
Look for what you can learn from the situation (curiosity beats anxiety every time)
Care for yourself physically and mentally
Read on for further details about each of these strategies.
Don’t make it personal.
There is a quirky personality trait that all humans (including you) have — it is called the fundamental attribution error. It is a process that has been designed through evolution to protect our own fragile self-concepts. With attributional error thinking we make sense of our own behaviour in terms of the circumstances around us, but when we make sense of the behavior of others we attribute their behavior to their personality rather than to circumstances. What this means is that when bad things happen to us we tend to think that the other people involved in the situation are ‘bad’ people who are out to get us and we make it personal. When we think it is personal it hurts, and when it hurts it is hard to create the best in a situation and be creative and flexible in our thinking. To protect yourself against the hurt of making it more personal than it is remind yourself of all the circumstances that have lead to this situation — it is very rare that it is personal and an attack on you personally. And if it is actually personal there is probably learning that you need to take from the situation (see below).
Don’t isolate yourself.
Another protective behaviour that people often engage in when they are hurting is the tendency to withdraw from others. In effect to hide and ‘lick our wounds’. This behavior is counterproductive to what you really need to be doing in this time of change. The best thing to do is to take stock of the people around you and to identify those who believe in you, those who will highlight for you your strengths, and those who will support you to keep taking action to be your best. Sometimes people don’t isolate themselves, but are not careful about who they surround themselves with, and fueled by anger, denial or bargaining will seek people who buy into and fuel their negative emotions (“They have been so crappy to you”, “You should be pissed off”, “Don’t let them get away with this”…). These people only help you stay stuck. Instead, look to surround yourself with people who gently support you to be your best (“What can you learn from this?”, “How can you become even better out of this?”).
Don’t violate your own values.
Negative emotions and the fuel of unhelpful people around you can have you take action that you later regret. Sending an angry email to the boss, personally attacking the character of someone, accusing people of conspiracy… Before taking any action pause and ask yourself which of your values this action aligns with. It is also helpful to ask if this is action you would take if it were to end up being reported on a current affairs TV show or the front page of the newspaper — if not don’t do it.
Do engage your creative problem solving ability.
It is hard to be creative and look for solutions when we have negative emotions. From an evolutionary perspective our negative emotions are about protecting us and keeping us safe and as a consequence they narrow the options we are able to see. A good way to be creative and come up with new ways of looking at the situation you are facing is to deliberately bring about positive emotions — do things that are fun and make you feel good — then look for new solutions. To further help this process expand your time frame and think about your situation in terms of your bigger picture and a long-term view of your career.
Do look for what you can learn from the situation.
Maybe this situation has come about through no fault on your part, but in most cases there is usually at least some small level of responsibility that it is valuable for you to own. Perhaps you haven’t stayed as skilled as you possibly could? Perhaps you didn’t heed the warning signs of change early enough? Perhaps you relied too heavily on the patronage of one particular person? Perhaps there is an area of development you have neglected to take? Ask yourself what grain of learning this situation has for you. Have conversations with others involved and, without becoming defensive, ask for their honest feedback about what you might have done to avoid this situation.
Finally, do care for yourself physically and mentally.
So often when things go wrong in their career people stop doing the things that keep them nurtured. They don’t feel like walking to work, so don’t and suffer from lack of exercise. They lay in bed ruminating rather than getting up and engaging in their normal morning mindfulness routine. They stop joining work colleague for Friday drinks and become more isolated. Times of change have also been shown to be ideal for instigating other changes — when one area changes it is easier to make change in another at the same time. So make the most of the changes that are happening in your career and add new self care routines.
Wishing you a Flourishing Career