Career progression in the public, as well as in the private sector is often filled with ups and downs. Everything seems exciting when one is initially hired into a new agency or when a new role is taken. Thoughts of how one can contribute come to mind, as well as minor concerns about possible challenges that lie ahead. However, a new position that in the beginning seems, so promising and fulfilling may eventually appear to stagnate your professional growth and limit your ability to serve in ways you believe you are capable. Or perhaps a supervisor you once befriended has somehow broken trust with you? Or maybe your present difficulties at work are solely due to your own decisions and actions and you are fully aware this is indeed the case? Or perhaps, due to a complex set of circumstances you now find yourself in a mere derivative or tangential field rather than the one you envisioned or that you started out in and you don’t find this new field quite as meaningful to you? So, what do you do when you’ve fallen in your career?
Recently, I observed a morning runner take a spill in my neighborhood. They got up and started walking. Hopefully, they were OK, but it reminded me of the 2012 Summer Olympic games when Morgan Uceny fell during the 1,500 meter finals. As I watched her I remember thinking “hurry up and get up!” Common sense told me it would be highly unlikely that she could win at that point, but hope told me that perhaps if she got up quickly enough, she might still finish respectfully. However, what Ms. Uceny did instead was slap the track in tears and frustration and she never finished the race – bless her heart. So, it can be in one’s career.
Falling in one’s career is not an experience that most people cherish. However, in the tenuous economy that we now live in with reduced budgets, a growing need to do more with less, and ever increasing levels of expectations, such falls may be more common today than in times past. How one copes with a fall in their career, both emotionally and behaviorally, can make a big difference in how things eventually shape up. Here’s a few suggestions (though not exhaustive):
- Take Inventory and Learn Why The Fall Occurred – As my mother used to tell me when I was a kid, “if you don’t learn anything from your mistakes – then nothing has been gained.” For this reason, I try to inform myself through my experiences – both positive and negative – to better understand the mechanics behind them. Is it possible a particular skill was missing? If so and one is still interested in the field, then maybe specialized training or a certification can help fill the gap. Or is it possible that though one had good theoretical knowledge of a subject matter, they lacked understanding of how to apply this knowledge in the real-world? If so, capitalize on the immediate experience and understand how things can be done more effectively and efficiently in the future. Or maybe one’s fall is a result of a poor choice regarding the compatibility between them and their environment. If this is the case, be more selective in the future. Whatever the cause, take the opportunity to be honest with yourself and learn from a fall, so that if possible you can avoid or greatly reduce the chance of ever falling again.
- Realize That Falling Is Not The End of The World – Careers often take many turns and twists over the course of time. No matter how difficult circumstances may seem, there is always an opportunity to work in another setting. This does not guarantee the new situation will be precisely what you want, but there usually is more than one option available, but you will have to be proactive to find them. As you eventually obtain one of those opportunities, many of the unpleasant details of your previous experiences will fade from memory. So, if or when you do fall, remember the race is far from over.
- Get Up & Get Moving “Quickly” – How quickly one is able to get themselves back into the race is important to how they finish it – no matter in what position they finally end up. But let’s be real here, when you fall you will lose progress. And getting back to the exact same position or better will be very difficult at the least. However, if you stop trying and focus solely on the opportunity you just lost then you will likely worsen the situation and for the rest of your life you will have to live with the knowledge that you did not press forward. In the early days of a fall, relationships are often still fresh and you may even find there are colleagues who are sympathetic to your plight and will be eager, to help you get back on your feet.
Hopefully, you will never fall in your career, but if you do – stay in the race!
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