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How to Recover from 5 Embarrassing Career Setbacks

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Have you ever felt like burying your head in the sand and waiting until no one remembers what just happened?

Positive thinking sounds awesome in theory, but it won’t help you erase a mistake. What can help is smart, adaptive action.

Here are five common head-in-the-sand scenarios and what you can do to make the best of them:

1. You’re Fired

Being fired, especially from a job you love, is one of the most devastating things that can happen. It’s not only the missing paycheck that hurts; it’s the humiliation and the big question mark about your self-worth.

I should know. Two years ago, I was fired from a job I loved, and that bitterness still lingers. But feeling bitter and acting bitter are two different things. If you want to turn being fired into an opportunity, consider these options:

Volunteer and freelance. My former colleague was fired from his position as a junior graphic designer, but just a month later, he made the jump to become a lead designer in a well-
known non-profit.

How did he do it? He chose not to be paid for his new position. However, it was a massive credibility boost, and his work quickly became some of the most well-known in the industry. Today, he makes more money freelancing part-time than he made working full-time.

Go to a competitor. Offer your services and you might even get a raise. If you’ve done amazing work, you didn’t have a non-compete clause in your contract, and you hate your former boss (kidding…well, not really), this is a great option to explore.

Don’t think it’s possible? Recruiters specialize in looking for people just like you. It’s called “talent poaching.” So why don’t you just present yourself to the company and save them a couple thousand dollars in finder’s fees?

2. You’re Demoted

What if you’re demoted, not fired? You don’t have the time to freelance or volunteer, and you can’t switch camp either. What should you do?

Look at it this way: your boss probably felt bad that he or she needed to demote you in the first place (if you’ve been doing a great job). That gives you an opportunity to ask for what you previously couldn’t get.

For example, accept the demotion but see if you can negotiate a flexible working schedule (location- or time- wise) that will allow you to take on clients of your own.

3. You’re Stagnant

Career stagnation happens when you’ve learned all you can from a position but can’t seem to move up. You should understand two thing to turn this into an opportunity:

This is the time to expand your job and responsibilities. Train an intern, hire an outsourced worker to help with repetitive tasks (with you verifying the results, of course) or practice using a new tool. You won’t have the time to deal with these things once you’re taking on new responsibilities.

Use your extra time to attend company-funded training. You’ll not only learn skills that are directly related to your job, but also skills that will help you sell yourself. That’s probably what you’re really missing if you’re stagnating.

4. You Made a Legendary Mistake

Those of you who are old enough will remember a legendary screw-up called the “New Coke.” To this day, marketing professionals still talk about it, and Malcolm Gladwell wrote about it in his bestselling book, Blink, even though it happened two decades ago.

What do you do when you screw up so badly the whole industry knows about it?

Create a case study out of it. Executives LOVE case studies, especially when they come from someone who made such a legendary mistake. In the case study, explain why the decisions you made were rational at the time, and what you did after you found out the project was a failure.

Note that there’s nothing here about “spinning” failure into something positive. For example, don’t say, “At least we got lots of publicity.” That only shows you haven’t learned your lesson.

Believe it or not, there are executives out there who absolutely love people who made big mistakes. In fact, a lack of blunders in your resume would turn them off. Search for these people and figure out how to work for or with them.

5. You’re Simply Bored

Nearly three-quarters of American workers are either not engaged or actively disengaged in their jobs, according to a 2011 study published by Gallup. If you’re one of these people, then listen up: prolonged boredom literally kills.

Now, I won’t go into the science in this post, but if you want to use this to your advantage, here’s how: tell your boss you’ve been doing this awesome work (quantify your claims so he can’t dispute them), but that you’re bored. Explain that if this lack of interest goes on, your productivity will go down and the company will make $X less or spend $Y more.

Make sure you get that last part. It’s important to make it about the company, not about you.

When your boss asks how he can help, name your price. If your boredom will cost the company $20,000 in sales, they’d probably be glad to send you to a $10,000 conference that will help you increase your productivity.

Patrick Del Rosario is part of the team behind Open Colleges, one of Australia’s pioneer and leading providers of web design courses and graphic design courses.

Brazen powers real-time, online events for leading organizations around the world. Our lifestyle and career blog, Brazen Life, offers fun and edgy ideas for ambitious professionals navigating the changing world of work.

  • Pingback: Five Career Setbacks (And How To Recover) | Lifehacker Australia

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id= Anonymous

    You’re suggesting that if an employee is bored with their job, that they should tell their employer that revenue will drop unless the employee received additional incentives? Really?

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1033567052 Sherri van der Wege

      Just what I was thinking. In addition, that because you are bored they will send you to an expensive conference? I am guessing you must be the CEO, because nobody else would have that happen.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=613636678 Andrianes Pinantoan

      I frankly have no idea what’s the issue with that last point. Granted, I’m young and have had only 3 jobs corporate jobs, but I said that with my last 2 bosses. One did nothing, so I quit 3 months later, but the other gave me new responsibilities – and yes, they did send to a conference. You’ve got to be already doing great work though. Perhaps bosses should be more transparent about their approachability.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1033567052 Sherri van der Wege

      I work for a large publicly traded company. Training has become almost non-existent as they cut costs to maintain the share price. There are some good managers just above me, but they don’t have the budget or the decision-making authority to do anything about it, no matter how good your work is.

      • John

        You’re so full of s….t- you’re plain and simple incompetent all of us who worked with you can testify about your “abilities”…. Thanks God you left the project and more so…your replacement is your carbon copy…. you found him, of course! Sherri you’re a big ZERO!!!!!!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1080728994 Senait Zere

    I love the last one about being bored because that’s how I feel about my job. It’s a great idea if you have a forward thinking boss who’s big on development and business growth – but a lot bosses aren’t. A lot of bosses are comfortable with the status quo.

    Maybe the better option would be to find a job where you’re not bored and always learning. Then again, that’s pretty hard to do. Every job reaches a limit on what you can learn unless you’re the CEO, then, opportunities and risks are yours to make forever.

    I’m becoming more and more convinced that being your own boss is the only way to make a worthwhile living.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=629349754 Liudmila Ferrara

    Did you ever try the advises you write here? Specially the last one is pure gold! :-)))

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id= Anonymous

    Number 5 hit home with me. I was usually bored on the job. It wasn’t my fault I was a fast learner (even trained other employees) and needed more and wanted more responsibility. However, this can scare your boss because they’ll think you’ll go after their job.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=110019975789598 “EncouragementGuy! Radio”

    Boredom Kills!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=110019975789598 “EncouragementGuy! Radio”

    @Guy Finley says: There are no Boring Jobs…only Boring people.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id= Anonymous
  • Pingback: Monday Motivation: Career Links and Navigating a Personal Crisis at Work

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100004066210269 Linda Lin

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  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000344049844 Mayo Watro

    Great words, even though does not reflect my occupations that is REO Properties for sale But.
    still worthy to save them in my diary.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100004115523951 Seoacer Wong

    This is very helpful for me. thanks for this great blog list.http://www.seoacer.com Thanks for your sharing!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100004066210269 Linda Lin

    Replica Watches of all world brands for sale – Replica Rolex Watches, Breitling, Tag Heuer, Cartier, Hublot Replica Watch at http://www.bestwatches4uk.com online store.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=829820050 Recruiting Animal
  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=829820050 Recruiting Animal

    Which job did you get fired from Patrick? Is this you?
    http://ph.linkedin.com/in/patrickdelrosario

    There aren’t many people named Patrick Del Rosario on Linkedin and the others don’t seem to fit your profile here either.

    Is it possible that you are writing about career issues and you are not on Linkedin?

    And is it possible that this story about being fired is just made up? I think so.

    I don’t think you wrote this and I don’t think that BrazenCareerist checked your background before they let you publish.

    If they did, I’d like to see some proof. If you are using your professional experience as a claim to expertise then it’s only fair to make it readily accessible.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100004098623694 Daniel Green

    signing a non-compete contract should be on the list. Once the company releases you albeit redundancy or fired – they can still dictate and place restrictions on your future career.

  • Pingback: One powerful way to learn from the failures in your career | Idealist Careers