On Dealing With Professional Disappointment

If you’ve been alive for more than a few years, you’ve likely dealt with disappointment. Losing a game, not getting a job, getting rejected from the girl you finally had the courage to ask out. You feel like you’ve been punched in the stomach and cannot image ever wanting something more, or ever having something so good. Life is full of disappointments, they are unavoidable. What truly matters is the way you handle them.

I have been working towards a promotion at work for many months. I had crossed off all the checkboxes required of the new title, and had indeed been performing that function for almost a year. My performance was solid, I had taken on new tasks and worked hard day in and day out. My manager said repeatedly I had done everything I needed to do, that it was just a matter of time. Imagine my surprise when I hear that a coworker on another team is getting promoted before me. I was angry, frustrated, and I wanted to quit right then and there. Screw the job if they couldn’t recognize that I was ready for a promotion!

I could have marched right into my manager’s office and told him how I felt, and where he could stick his promises and assurances to me. None of that mattered anymore, I hadn’t gotten what I wanted. But would that have helped anything? Or would it have hurt my professional reputation? Luckily I walked outside, took a few deep breathes and called home to get some perspective. Just relax, my mom said, and don’t do anything stupid or rash. Take your time, and gather your thoughts and feelings before doing something you may regret later. I went back inside and searched for professional disappointment and what to do when you are passed over for a promotion. Another article I found was this one. I followed what I read pretty closely.

First, I allowed myself a moment or two to feel my emotions. I was angry, upset, frustrated and sad. I would jump around between emotions frequently that day, and just when I thought I could think with a clear head, another emotion would come back. You have to let these emotions out. Don’t bottle them up, but don’t let them control you either. If you feel angry, be angry…just don’t start yelling at anyone or throwing a vocal pity party for yourself.

Next, I sought some perspective on what happened. I met with my manager at the end of the day, and he knew exactly why I wanted to speak with him. I had used the day to gather my thoughts and form some questions; I’m usually not good with conflict or difficult conversations, so it helps me to prepare. I asked what more I needed to do, why I wasn’t moving forward, questions that related to me, not the person who got what I wanted. Comparing yourself to someone else in this situation, or demeaning their accomplishments, only ends up hurting you. Focus on what YOU need to do to get what you want. No one takes a promotion from you, so don’t blame them. He gave a little bit of insight into the situation, which in this case didn’t really help me. The reason I hadn’t gotten promoted had more to do with my manager not fighting for it, rather than anything I hadn’t done.

After gaining some perspective, I decided to take stock of where I am professionally, and how best to move forward. I set up meetings with my director, my vice president, and another director who works closely with my organization. The feedback ranged from difficult (lack of a personal network at work) to helpful (use your introversion to your advantage) to a bit of psychological boosting (I’m doing excellent, it was just a matter of timing). I realized that I could either wallow in my disappointment, or move forward from it. Working with those people, I came up with a plan of attack to continue pushing forward, while also setting up for new opportunities within the company. After the meetings, I had a renewed sense of purpose and motivation.

While my particular situation was about a professional disappointment, it works just as well in other cases too. Didn’t get the girl? Take some time to be sad about it, but then ask people you trust for some honest feedback, and build a plan to address any shortcomings. And don’t discount timing or luck; they are certainly important factors that are completely out of your control. And if you can’t control something, it’s not worth getting upset over.

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