How I recovered from my first major career setback

I want to write this post for 2 reasons. The first one is that I hope that it may provide some support and ideas to some readers who might experience a professional setback. The other reason is to keep a record for myself, as I know professional challenges don’t happen just once in a career, and it is helpful to develop one’s own way to tackle them.

Without going into too much details, this is the setback that happened for me : 2 years ago, I took a job for which I was not completely qualified, in a team that was not very supportive, and I also had a baby at the same time. The situation slowly unraveled over 6 months and I ended up being offered a more junior role in the same team following a reorganization. I refused the job and took an equally junior position but in a different team, where I knew I had more chance to rebuild myself. The feeling of failure was extreme, but I was lucky to be given a project with huge senior exposure and doubly lucky that this project played to strengths I didn’t know I had and started to develop. Overall, I can now conclude that I am once again seen as a top talent and top potential by the company I work for (and where I have worked for 10 years). I say that not to show off, but to give hope.

The rise and fall.

I fell hard, probably for the first time in my life and then I rose slowly, and to be fair, there are days where I tell myself that I still need to rise a little more. But mostly, I am out of the pit.

Through this process, some things that I did helped me, and I want to share them today :

I took some time off: First, we went on a family holidays for a week, right after the final drama happened. Then, most of the summer, whilst in my new position, I didn’t do much. Yes I showed up to work most days, but I was doing things slow, a meeting here, a small paper there… I needed that respiration to not take too much of my baggage into my new job. It is only in September that I felt that I was somehow capable of a bigger project.

I called on friends: First to give me support, a shoulder to cry on and some guidance and empathy. But also for other things : I called on colleagues to help me find a new position in the company. I knew there were a few people who would be keen to work with me, or to give me a project. And it is thanks to one of these people that I found the project that has been my rebound.

I got a coach: I asked my company for a coach to support me and they granted it. Partly out of loyalty for a long-tenured staff, partly because they must still have thought I had some potential and partly, I guess, out of empathy for my being in this situation. My coach has been a tremendous help because I knew that she was there FOR ME. She didn’t care about the others, what they thought, she was here to help ME. I did 5 session with her, that helped me see clearer what my strengths were and more importantly where my enjoyment was. I see her more sporadically now, but she has been a key part of my “reconstruction”.

I worked hard to sort out what had been my fault… and what hadn’t been, and I forgave myself: Having a growth mindset is one of the key to success, and so is grit and tenacity. So I thought “right, this didn’t work out, but a career spans 40 years, so how can I make sure I don’t make the same mistake”. This process forced me to look at my mistakes in the eyes (“yes, I could have been more assertive and organized”) and also to forgive myself for what wasn’t my fault (“yes, my boss could have supported me much more”). A particular guilt factor was my pregnancy and the birth of Peanut. I forgave myself for a lot of my mistakes because adjusting to a new baby is hard. In a way, I was booted out of my job 3 months after returning after a 3 month mat leave, I was still breastfeeding… Not that it gives me an excuse for the things I could indeed have done better, but I clearly was not at my best and not as equipped to deal with aggressiveness and long hours as I usually am.

I focused on quality and intellectual honesty : In a time of emotional turmoil, I was getting easily overwhelmed by my emotions. I was also doubting myself big time. I decided to try and silence emotions when in work, and to simply focus on recommending/producing/saying things that I knew to be intellectually true. This forced me to go deeper and be extra attentive to the quality of my work, and it also gave my heart a rest. And I think it made it easier for people to deal with me, which leads me to the next point.

I asked for feedback: Not so much about the past, as it is not so useful, but about my next pieces of work. I now ask people for feedback all the time, as it puts me in control and the feedback becomes an opportunity for people to help me get better and not judge me as good or bad.

And finally…

I kept believing in myself and stayed positive : I would repeat my mantra every day “Today is a good day” no matter what shit could come my way. I kept on telling myself that I could do anything I wanted to. Sometimes it was hard, and I would sob on Lion’s shoulder telling him I would never improve no matter what. At first he would pat my back, but when he felt I could take it, he would shake me up by telling me that there was nothing I couldn’t accomplish and to get a move on. And ultimately I did, I slowly stopped feeling sorry for myself and got back to work. And that’s where I’ll be 🙂



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