Positive stories about overcoming a career setback
October 7, 2019 2:09 AM   Subscribe

I've just had a major career setback and am heartbroken. I'd like to hear stories, ranging from personal anecdotes to published works, about how people dealt with this failure and moved on. I don't want stories of people who had massive success afterwards- just regular people who managed to learn from the experience.
posted by daybeforetheday to Work & Money (6 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
I had a stable mangement job for 6 years (which i took after a 4 year run somewhere else), was let go and out of work for 4 months, had a remote job for 4 months before the company was bought and let people go, had a remote job for 2 months before a new C-level was brought in and let people go, had a local job for 1 month before I-don't-even-understand and i was let go, with month or three gaps between all those, and finally found a remote job at the best place I've ever worked (and i think I've worked for 14 companies professionally in my field). In that year-and-a-half my finances went to shit, as I'm not great with money and I was still responsible for child and spousal support (don't get me wrong... i love my kid and care about his mom), including health insurance for me and child (which is still not exactly cheap even for bronze level plans). My inability to handle the stress of all this helped kill a relationship with someone I wanted to be with for the rest of my life (not my marriage... that was already done - my decision - and divorce negotiations were a part of this time too).

I've been deep in debt for a year and it'll be another year probably before I'm out from under all of that (bringing me back to zero more or less). My work confidence and sense of stability is only just rebuilding after a year of holding my current job.

Yet now, I have a fantastic job that I really enjoy at a company has given me the opportunity to move from major city to rural nature, where, in the quiet, I've been able to figure out some vital things about my life (oh, hey, I'm transgender?!?.... how'd I miss that my whole life?). I'm back to a low-level position but I'm fine with that - happy to dig ditches and build latrines.

What did I learn?

As soon as you have no income, lock down your spending hard, while leaving something in there to treat yourself compassionately (therapy would have been a good choice for me). Make a new austerity budget and stick to it. Find free outside-the-home (improtant to get out) entertainment (free museum day, walks in nice places). If you have to rely on credit cards, get new zero-interest ones instead of using whatever you always use. I'm sure there's even better advice to be had here.

Take an anything and everything approach to job applications because the process is fairly random (I've been on the hiring side too). I think I applied for over a hundred jobs each time around and the company that hired me finally rejected me in my first work search.

Get introspective and figure out what you really want out of life and how you want to live it. Meditation has been my touchstone for a long time so that helped a lot.

Talk to friends A LOT.... reach out, do not isolate yourself, but limit social media because the comparisons to other people's seemingly functioning lives is corrosive.

If anyone ever needs someone to reach out to about this kind of mishigas, please MeMail me. If any of what I went through can benefit someone else, that would be great.

Thank you for asking the question. Just keep reminding yourself that things can change (they do nothing but change) and all we can do is do what we can to take responsibility for our own actions (because we have no control and varying influence over other people's actions).

May better fortune smile upon you soon.
posted by kokaku at 3:40 AM on October 7 [10 favorites]

I had a cool job in technology at the end of college, and worked there for several years after graduation; I got to be in every part of the company, and did all sorts of interesting things. Then I got laid off less than two months before my wife had our first child. I found a new job in IT just in time: it wasn't awesome, but it was a job, and I had bills to pay. Two years later, I finally found a better gig that was closer to home, paid a little more, had a little better benefits -- and I jumped at it.

My last night I went out with my team. My manager rounded on me and asked why, when I seemed so smart, had I taken the job with them -- shouldn't I have been doing something bigger, like what I was heading to at the new place? It really hurt me to have someone question the obvious-to-me reason: my newly-expanded family needed me to be bringing in money. Once I was re-established, I could try to find something exciting.

A couple of years later, I saw that manager again: he had kids now, he'd changed jobs, and he said that now he realized at the time I had been in survival mode, and he just didn't understand that mindset because he had always been a West Pointer, helicopter pilot, IT whiz, and just had not been back on his heels. I had looked up to him before the whole incident, which made it really disillusioning.

So what was the lesson for me? The lesson is that you will find something else, but you may move laterally to get it -- and some folks might question what you're doing. But you just keep dog-paddling to dry land, and when you're more stable and more confident, then you can strike out boldly. And who knows: with a little more pragmatism and a little more empathy, you'll probably be a kinder, more focused person. (It'll suck to get there, but you will make it.)
posted by wenestvedt at 8:06 AM on October 7 [4 favorites]

Harvard Business Review just published a piece - based on research published in the academic journal Nature Communications - that showed that people who experienced an early failure ultimately produced higher-impact work. Excerpt:

Imagine yourself in a close race, maybe pitching your startup to a highly sought-after investor, or going after a coveted job opening.

Now imagine you could choose one of two possible outcomes: a narrow win — you just beat the closest competitor — or a near miss, where you were this close but didn’t make the cut. Would you rather be the narrow win or the near miss?

The winner, of course.

Yet our recent research published today in Nature Communications, coauthored with postdoctoral scholar Yang Wang, shows the right choice may not be as simple as it appears.

We examined more than 1000 early-career scientists in the U.S. who had narrowly won or just missed winning a key grant, and found that, in the longer run, the near-miss researchers ended up producing higher-impact work, on average, than their narrow-win peers. This finding challenges conventional wisdom about the relative value of winning and losing, with important, broad implications for both innovators and the institutions that support them.

posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 8:11 AM on October 7 [1 favorite]

A colleague didn't make partner (despite promises, the usual story) at A-Number-One Successful Firm, the kind of place where you basically have to leave (after seven-eight years!) if you don't. He left to go to another firm, which went bankrupt maybe two years after he joined. He then went to yet another firm, frankly a better one than Bankrupt (though not than A-Number-One), and finally made partner. He really just worked his connections to get the spot at Firm Three (opposing counsel in a massive case he and I worked on together at A-Number-One) and then ground it the hell out while he was there, though I think being more conscious of the exploitative dynamic involved. (He was always a little too trusting of our bosses.)
posted by praemunire at 4:25 PM on October 7 [1 favorite]

After graduating college, I got a job working as a staff writer for the largest newspaper in Oklahoma. Yay! But then we found out my wife was pregnant and she wanted to move back to Oregon to be near her family, so I quit that job and we came to the northwest.

Once here, I got a decent job at an electronics company and was working toward joining their writing staff when suddenly 9/11 happened. The investors in the company lost millions and the company went under, leaving me unemployed with two toddlers in Portland.

I couldn't find a job that paid well, so I finally took one in the mail room and copy center of a large downtown law firm, working for $10 an hour. The shift was 11:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m., which sucked, and I rode the Max train to and from work daily, which added almost 2 hours to each work day. It was grueling, but I knew that my foot was in the door and I couldn't let this opportunity pass me by.

I got promoted, then transferred to a different office. Then, through personal relationships and networking, I finally managed to get hired back into a writing job, seven years after I quit the newspaper. I have been at this job ever since and, seeing how the market for journalists has imploded, I'm glad I didn't stay at the newspaper (even though I was so, so, so excited when I got hired there).
posted by tacodave at 5:01 PM on October 7

I recommend the book “the spiral staircase: my climb out of darkness” by Karen Armstrong. It’s basically about this? From an ex-nun who failed her PhD defence.
posted by Valancy Rachel at 9:59 PM on October 7

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