How to turn a job setback into your career setup

My self-esteem was crushed.

My supervisor informed me that I was being demoted.

I was stunned. As far as I knew, I was doing well. I knew the job inside out.

I couldn’t afford a demotion.

What am I going to do?

Job setbacks can shatter your self-confidence and make it difficult to stay positive. It can make you feel you’re a failure and make you feel like your career is derailed.

Fortunately, a job setback doesn’t have to ruin you or your career. You can rebuild your confidence and get your career back on track.

These strategies worked for me. Try them for yourself:

Let the wounds heal before revisiting the setback. You may feel tempted to focus on the issues that led to the job setback, but you need time to heal.

Truth be told, there is a mini-grieving process when you experience a setback. You have a range of emotions: I felt denial. I couldn’t believe I was being demoted. I had tons of experience and I performed my job very well under the circumstances. Then I felt anger. They could have given me a head’s up and a chance to address any problems. I felt sadness and fear. What am I going to do? I can’t afford a decrease in my salary. Finally, acceptance.

I couldn’t continue to cry over spilled milk.

I had to focus on my next steps…

Once you’re ready to address the issues, you can look over the events. This will give your confidence a chance to mend itself.

When I re-hashed the events, I could see that my demotion was imminent and that the demotion was not totally based on my performance. It was the owners’ way to validate the hard choices they had to make for their company during the recession, although how they went about it was wrong.

Upon my hire, I was told that I would be the Senior Executive Assistant for three executives: The partners and a marketing executive (who was also new). I would have three assistants who would perform the administrative tasks for the marketing department, IT and receptionist, respectively. The first week on the job, they fired one assistant and the other assistant was a high-school student who was part-time. There was never a third assistant.

So within a month, I ended up doing the job of three assistants on top of my responsibilities. I stayed because it was during a recession and the pay would help our family stay on top of our bills.

As a seasoned assistant, I was able to manage most of the responsibilities alone; although there were many times I stayed after business hours to make sure everything was done. In retrospect, I was exhausted. Many times, I did not get to see my kids before they went to bed. But I reasoned that the money was decent enough to provide for our family and achieve our financial goals. However, it wasn’t enough to pay me for the work I performed that I did not agree to.

I discovered that the company was experiencing financial challenges and they were trying to stay afloat. So they downsized, without advising the staff. The workplace was toxic. I think back to how they made passive aggressive comments, such as, “Did you ever get around to setting up the buffet for lunch?” Really? I was literally handling five jobs. I was ordering and setting up lunch, cleaning the kitchen, and responsible for maintenance of the property, on top of my administrative duties, including answering the phone! Also, one owner micro-managed. I could not make a minor decision as selecting landscaping contractors without bringing it to them.

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I pat myself on the back that I was stronger than I knew. How I did all of those duties for almost nine months is beyond me! It had to be God. I knew I have given my best effort, and that’s all I could do.

Ask yourself: What lessons have you learned? Do you need to correct something to avoid similar challenges? Do you understand how the job issues developed and what could have prevented them?

There were several lessons I learned. One was that I should have spoken up for myself when I never got the help they promised and I needed. I should have told them it was next to impossible to be all of those roles. I needed help instead of trying to do everything myself. I should have never settled for less than agreed. Finally, the last lesson was that not all money is good. The salary would help me achieve my financial goals, but at the expense of a quality of life is never the way. I will never get back the time I worked into the night when I should have been home with my family.

Answering these questions will help you find closure. This is important for boosting your confidence.

Develop your skills.

Developing your skills will help increase your self-confidence. Learn from past job mistakes and work on specific details to prevent them from happening again. Ask yourself what skills did you glean from the experience?

In my situation, I needed to learn how to improve my communication skills and negotiation skills. I took communication courses and hired a coach to help me improve on those skills.

Take small risks to boost your confidence. Try a new project at work or start a new job.

I did not accept the demotion and I resigned from the company. There was no way I could afford less pay, and there was no way that I would stay and perform all of those duties with a lower title. It would have communicated to the owners that they can walk all over me and validated their unethical handling of their situation. I later found out that I was the sixth person in that position within the last three years. I don’t feel like they recognized the importance of the role of assistants and treated the position as if it was expendable.

I freelanced my services to entrepreneurs who could use the help. I also worked at a temporary agency until I could secure enough work from freelancing. I felt like I was in control of my destiny.

By facing your fears and taking action, your self-confidence grows. Carefully weigh the consequences of new ventures and take small risks. It’s important not to dwell on the job setback.

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Avoid isolation and seek your friends. Isolation can make positive thinking more difficult.

Your friends can offer valuable support. They can encourage you to try again and help you figure out effective ways to deal with all the emotions you experience in a time like this. If it wasn’t for friends and family, I believe I would have been depressed. If you don’t have someone to talk to, try a therapist or a coach to help you through.

Ask for help and find new mentors. Mentors can reassure you while helping you develop alternative career paths. They can also help you network with new companies or peers to boost your confidence. Seek persons within your company who can help. You can also join professional associations, and Facebook or LinkedIn groups can link you to potential mentors in your field.

Remember the successes in your life.

A job setback doesn’t define your entire life. Your life has multiple aspects other than work, so it’s important to acknowledge and appreciate them. Analyze the successes in other parts of your life or consider past job successes.

Are you proud of your healthy family? Do you consider your ability to run a marathon a success? Do you appreciate the knowledge you gained while pursuing a graduate degree? These factors can help you increase your self-confidence and remind you of success.

Put things in perspective.

Focus on the positive aspects of your life. Realize that the job setback provided a valuable learning opportunity and the chance to re-evaluate your career.

In my challenge, the setback made me rethink what I really wanted in my career and to look at the big picture. For that reason, I’m thankful for the experience. I have applied the lessons I’ve learned throughout my career. I’m wiser and stronger because of the experience. During the challenge, I started a journal to help me keep perspective, remain clear and stay positive. Keeping a journal helped me through the stressful periods and helped me stay balanced.

Create new goals. New goals can help you feel accomplished and raise your self-esteem.

The list should comprise a variety of goals ranging from small to big. For example, it can include going for a run every day or taking on an extra project at work. If your confidence needs to rebuilding, then consider doing one goal at a time.

I revised my career plan, made the setback work for me, and I felt stronger than ever.

Final thoughts

A job setback can affect you emotionally, but it doesn’t have to destroy your confidence or your career.

You can overcome any setback and advance your career. Use these strategies to take control of the situation and your career.

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