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Coping with a Setback at Work


Coping with a Setback at Work

Please use this byline with all articles: Your career coach Alexandra Levit is an author and speaker focusing on workplace issues facing twenty-something employees. Learn more at


If you’ve chosen a career in the professional world, you will inevitably experience some type of setback. You’ll be moving along—making great progress, and growing by leaps and bounds every day—and then, suddenly, you’ll be dealt a blow. And whether your pet project is canceled, your performance review is a bust, you get turned down for a promotion, or you’re asked to leave the company, setbacks hurt big time. You’re de-motivated and disillusioned. You might not feel like doing anything for a few days except watching E!, munching on Doritos, and wallowing in self-pity.

When you’re lying on the ground and your job is stomping all over you, it can be pretty hard to pick yourself up and get moving again. Nevertheless, if you start thinking of yourself as a victim or allow yourself to lapse into prolonged negativity, you won’t be hurting anyone except yourself. Worrying until you get sick, abusing alcohol or drugs, or denying that you’ve reached an impasse won’t help either. The best strategy for making a comeback is to recognize the reality of the situation, acknowledge your feelings, and find a way to cope productively. Here are some tips that have gotten me through my darkest career days:

  • Remind yourself that, in a month, this will be a memory. When setbacks happen, the tendency is to feel as though your bad luck will last forever. By keeping in mind that the situation is temporary, you’ll be strong enough emotionally to take the necessary steps to overcome your misfortune.
  • Recognize that a setback does not make you a total failure. Treat your setback as the isolated incident that it is. Regardless of what happened, chances are it’s not going to significantly affect your life one way or the other. And I don’t know any successful people who’ve learned the right way to do things without trying several wrong ways first.
  • Reach out to your support systems. During a crisis, it always helps to know you are not alone and that you are justified in feeling the way you do. Instead of withdrawing from the people you care about, make an effort to connect with them and lean on them for support. Your network of friends and family is most critical, but you can receive comfort and insight from spiritual support systems and prayer as well.
  • Commit yourself to a new project. New goals and projects provide fresh perspective and a sorely needed dose of enthusiasm. You’ll be motivated to work harder, and will probably be too busy to think much about your setback.