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How to Handle a Career Setback

At any given time in your career, you will experience a career setback. Even individuals at the top of their game will inevitably suffer a career obstacle. Setbacks come in a variety of ways. These include (but are not limited to) reassignments to areas outside of your expertise, changes in leadership or priorities, making ethical and unpopular decisions, etc. In addition, these can cause very real emotional pain. According to a Pew Research Center study, 34 percent of Americans indicated that their careers provided them with a sense of meaning.

How you respond to these setbacks determines and defines your career. There is no guaranteed recipe for success in the workplace. People are the first part of organizations, then rules and regulations. People are the ever-changing X-factor in career success. What works well for one person may not work for another. This means that there are no set rules to govern how you can maintain continued people-to-people related success.

Here are some strategies to overcome your career setback:

Acknowledge the cause. No one is error-free in the workplace. Whether it was a personality-based decision, or you made a mistake, do not dwell on the issue. Instead, move forward. You cannot govern how others will react to situations. Moreover, you are also human and make errors.

Be true to yourself. When faced with workplace adversity, try not to be what a specific person wants you to be. You bring your individual values and morals into everything you do. Take actions and make decisions that allow you to be at peace with yourself. To think of it another way, ask yourself, “Am I willing to sacrifice who I am to make someone else at work happy or like me?”

Assess your strengths. Take time to identify what you do well. Make a list of your workplace strengths. Compare your strengths to your job duties and expectations. Do your skills still align with your profession? Furthermore, are your strengths still valued in your organization?

Keep your ethics. Your ethical compass should clearly differentiate between what you know is right or wrong. Don’t second-guess what you see as right or wrong to fit someone else’s agenda. Questionable leadership will arise from time to time, but ethics always prevail over time.

Redefine your personal brand at work. When new leadership takes over in an organization, there is a natural push to reject the “old ways” of doing things. Often, this also includes a rejection of the people associated with the “old ways”. While this may temporarily relegate you to a lower status at work, don’t give up. Use your savvy to build honest relationships with new leaders. This allows you the opportunity to show them what you bring to the organization without being strictly associated with a prior way of operating.

Focus on your organization’s mission. While sorting out what your next steps will be, it helps to ignite a personal connection to your organization’s mission. Think about what made you want to originally join the organization. What part of its mission drove you to pursue your position?

Finally, accept that changes occur, and you may need to make your own changes. If you are unable to overcome any of the above-mentioned strategies, then it may be time for you to move on to a new chapter of your career. You must consider if it is worth staying at an organization, when you can no longer be or motivate yourself to be something or someone you are not.

Andy Reitmeyer was Associate Director for the Engagement and Retention office, Internal Revenue Service. He was responsible for leading engagement strategies for IRS and was part of the IRS Engagement and Retention office since its inception. Andy’s tenure with IRS included numerous domestic and international senior leadership roles. He earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Political Science from Point Park University, a Juris Doctor from Taft University and a Certificate in Executive Leadership from Cornell University. In addition, he has a French Language Diploma from the French Government. Andy is a graduate of the IRS Executive Readiness Program. You can read his posts here.

This article originally appeared on August 15, 2019.

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