How to Find Gratitude in Career Setbacks

being grateful

What’s your attitude about gratitude? Do you wait until Thanksgiving to give thanks? According to a growing body of research devoted to the study of gratitude, those who count their blessings regularly and stop focusing on life’s setbacks live better year-round. That may sound a lot like optimism, and there is some overlap, according to researchers from National Taiwan University. But those with gratitude tend to be considered “realist” optimists, not the pie-in-the-sky kind of idealistic optimists. And they're the ones who reap the most success emotionally, psychologically and physically.

This is not blind optimism; this is practicing wisdom,” says Gail McMeekin, LICSW, MSW, founder of the coaching and mentoring service Creative Success and author of “The 12 Secrets of Highly Successful Women.” 

“In life, mistakes or setbacks help us gather valuable information that leads us to better next steps. When we fail, the trick is to get up, brush ourselves off, learn what we can from the experience and get back into action.” 

Here’s how to turn potential career setbacks into advantages in the long run.

Being Grateful

Being Grateful

What’s your attitude about gratitude? Do you wait until Thanksgiving to give thanks? According to a growing body of research devoted to the study of gratitude, those who count their blessings regularly and stop focusing on life’s setbacks live better year-round. That may sound a lot like optimism, and there is some overlap, according to researchers from National Taiwan University. But those with gratitude tend to be considered “realist” optimists, not the pie-in-the-sky kind of idealistic optimists. And they’re the ones who reap the most success emotionallypsychologically and physically.
 
“This is not blind optimism; this is practicing wisdom,” says Gail McMeekin, LICSW, MSW, founder of the coaching and mentoring service Creative Success and author of “The 12 Secrets of Highly Successful Women.” 

“In life, mistakes or setbacks help us gather valuable information that leads us to better next steps. When we fail, the trick is to get up, brush ourselves off, learn what we can from the experience and get back into action.” 

Here’s how to turn potential career setbacks into advantages in the long run.

The Situation: You Lost Your Job

The Situation: You Lost Your Job

Losing a job can be one of the most stressful experiences we can face, according to the American Institute of Stress, even raising your risk of heart attack and hypertension. There’s also plenty of research to support the view that unemployment fosters depression and anxiety.

Reframe It: Surprisingly, experts also say there’s plenty to be thankful about when you’re canned. “I have done outplacement counseling for years and so many people are actually relieved to get laid off,” says McMeekin.

“Often there was something about the job that was not a good fit, or their industry is dying or changing, or the company was not growing.” She recommends to clients that they analyze the details of their layoff to see if there are any professional development clues in there before starting another job search. Did you really hate being a manager, anyway? Did you no longer respect the management decisions of the company before the downsizing? If you can reframe the meaning of the job loss, you will be happier and more motivated to create a better situation next time. 

The Situation: You Were Passed Over for a Promotion

The Situation: You Were Passed Over for a Promotion

Being passed over for a promotion feels like rejection, which is never fun. Sure, British researchers have shown that getting that promotion might have actually been bad for your mental health, producing 10 percent more mental strain. But it’s hard to feel gratitude for being spared the stress when it’s at the expense of a bigger title (and paycheck).

Reframe It: Disappointing? Yes. But the message conveyed in this information can be huge and formative. “Dissect the reasons why you didn’t get it,” says McMeekin. “Sometimes, you may not have been strategic about doing the things to get visible and demonstrate your competence to get the promotion.” Or, just as likely, you may’ve been passed over because of factors completely out of your control — and ones that may make you question whether the company is the right fit. “Begin to think about leaving the company if all the promotions go to men, are political and so on,” adds McMeekin. Whether you adjust your strategic behavior at work or realize it’s time to move on, this small setback may be a blessing in disguise. 

The Situation: You Received a Less-Than-Amazing Review From Superiors

The Situation: You Received a Less-Than-Amazing Review From Superiors

No doubt about it, criticism stings. But it is important to distinguish between constructive and destructive criticism. Presumably, your meeting met the former description and not that latter kind of takedown of your character. Therefore it wasn’t meant to embarrass you, but help you.

Reframe It: This experience gives you the opportunity to self-reflect, says Barbara Safani, owner of the executive coaching and recruitment firm in New York City and author of “Happy About My Job Search: How to Conduct an Effective Job Search for a More Successful Career.” 

“For example, was there a communication breakdown that occurred during the year that was never addressed and led to the poor review? Are corporate politics at play, and is this the sign you needed to finally acknowledge that this is not the right place for you?” If these scenarios aren’t to blame, this could be an opportunity to be stronger at your job. Ask for specifics and focus on how you can work on those areas that need improvement before the next review.

The Situation: Your Job Description Changed

The Situation: Your Job Description Changed

In the fast-paced, ever-evolving roles of successful businesses today, it’s very likely that your job description can change right under your nose. Still, pushing back on your new responsibilities, or mourning the loss of the old ones, can be a frustrating — and futile — way to deal with the situation.

Reframe It: Rather than focus on the stress of change, instead view this as a chance to develop more well-rounded skills that will likely make you more marketable, says psychologist and career coach, Janet Scarborough Civitelli, PhD, and author of “Help Me Find A Career: Strategies To Choose Work You Will Love.” 

“Even if the job description is changing in a way that doesn't seem advantageous to you, being gracious about it is a good idea at first,” she says. “Meanwhile, develop strategies to convince your employer to change the description again in a way that you prefer over time.” 

The Situation: You Didn't Get That Job Interview You Wanted

The Situation: You Didn't Get That Job Interview You Wanted

You’ve spruced up your resume, made all the necessary calls to connected colleagues who know about the job opening — and you still didn’t get an invitation to meet for an interview. It can be hard to find the silver lining in this, but experts say there is one.

Reframe It: “If you didn't get an interview, there are a lot of possible reasons. The position might have been placed on hold, an internal candidate might have landed the job or the fit might not have been great,” says Civitelli. In any event, getting overly negative about the experience doesn't bring you any closer to landing the next interview. By staying positive, you are better able to troubleshoot your job search process and take action to land the next interview, she adds. Maintain a positive relationship with the HR staffer who didn’t call you about the job you wanted and she may think of you when another position opens up. 

The Situation: You’re Feeling Overwhelmed

The Situation: You’re Feeling Overwhelmed

One look at your desk at the office and you don’t have to say a word. You are feeling slammed and overworked and you just can’t ever imagine getting out from under all of the things on your to-do list.

Reframe It: First, be thankful that you’re an integral part of the team on the job and that people depend on you. Of course, this isn’t easy to take in when your physical environment is in such shambles. Princeton University research shows that clutter really affects your happiness and ability to have a sense of control. So, start out with physically cleaning up your workspace to help lift your mind. “You’ll feel empowered because you know you can handle things, and this helps up to feel optimistic about life,” says organization expert Jennifer Ford Berry, author of “Organize Now! Your Money, Business and Career.”

The Situation: You Feel Like You Don’t Measure Up to Your Colleagues

The Situation: You Feel Like You Don’t Measure Up to Your Colleagues

That office mate with the handsome husband and the fancy vacations. Your boss’s duplex apartment and adorable family. Sometimes, it’s not about the job’s responsibilities getting you down at the office, but your perception of how you compare to them outside work.

Reframe It: “Women have been terrorized by these myths of perfection that eclipse our trust in the flow of life and our self-esteem,” says McMeekin. But everyone’s imperfect. So give that “grass is greener” mentality a rest by resisting the temptation to compare yourself to others. It’s not particularly realistic, nor effective, in succeeding in your life’s goals. “We need to protect our self-worth,” reminds McMeekin. 

So when your mind starts wandering to the “haves” of your office mate, cut off the thought process by pulling out a piece of paper and making a list all of the things you’re most proud of about yourself. It’s a great reminder, especially in the season of giving thanks.

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