A woman seated on the ground looking down

“When you give yourself permission to communicate what matters to you in every situation, you will have peace despite rejection or disapproval. Putting a voice to your soul helps you to let go of the negative energy of fear and regret.” — Shannon L. Alder

Career disappointment is a very real experience. This type of disappointment stings whether it is micro (a new client turning down your pitch) or macro (getting turned down for your dream job).

Our careers are not simply jobs; however, sometimes they become tied up with our sense of identity. The reason these disappointments sting so badly is that they’re essentially rejections. When we tie our sense of self up in our work, we take rejection to heart.

When we tie our sense of self up in our work, we take rejection to heart.

During the midst of some of my heaviest career disappointment, friends and family have often reached out with positive platitudes such as: It wasn’t meant to be. Something better is waiting around the corner. It was the wrong timing for your life.

While I appreciate the beauty in these sentiments, I have to acknowledge that I don’t want to hear them when I’m feeling disappointed. Throughout time, as the sting begins to fade, these are great words to find comfort in. They can form an essential part of developing an internal practice of learning to better cope with disappointment.

The key for me here is the acknowledgment that they are part of a larger practice. Something that’s helped me become better at bouncing back from career disappointments is accepting that rejection is a healthy part of our overall life experience. 

Experiencing disappointment in this way has helped me realize what I really want from my career. That feeling tells me when I’m going after the right things and motivates me to keep going.

Rejection is a healthy part of our overall life experience. 

Bouncing back doesn’t come naturally for many people. (It definitely didn’t for me initially.) This is probably because most of us are taught to shy away from these experiences and deny their impact. 

Bouncing back requires fully committing to acknowledging the experience that’s happened without lingering on the negatives. Here are three simple ways to begin the journey of learning how to recover from career disappointment or disappointment of any kind:

1. Don’t turn to denial.

Turning to denial in the face of disappointments keeps us bonded to internal fears around our self-worth and value. It keeps us connected to the fear of pain. Thus, we forget—or don’t allow room for—our full capacity to recover and learn from the experience.

I’ve been guilty of turning to denial on multiple occasions, and all it did was keep me locked in more dangerous emotions of loneliness and sadness. Building the muscle to process rejection requires patience, practice and acknowledgment of how we’re feeling. Even simply saying, “I feel sad about this” or “I was hopeful about this and it sucks it hasn’t worked out” are healthy ways to push through denial and into acceptance.

Building the muscle to process rejection requires patience, practice and acknowledgment of how we’re feeling.

2. Stay curious about how you feel.

Avoiding or denying disappointment removes our openness and capacity to endure being vulnerable. Acknowledging rejection as an emotional state allows us to move into the deeper work of understanding why we feel what we feel.

This can be a beautiful, albeit uncomfortable, space to sit within. It usually means examining the most vulnerable parts of ourselves and understanding why the current experience has opened up an internal emotional wound. Maintaining curiosity throughout this process is essential because it steers us away from shaming thoughts such as “I deserved this” or “I knew I was no good, and this proves it.”

Staying curious about yourself and how you feel helps you return to a state of exploration, openness, empathy and kindness. Approaching disappointment with curiosity leading the way opens you up to growth.

Approaching disappointment with curiosity leading the way opens you up to growth.

3. When you’re ready, refocus.

Feeling all the feels is great, but don’t get stuck there. Once you’ve given yourself time to acknowledge and accept disappointment, rechannel that energy into your future.

Disappointments tell us that we’re heading in the right direction. After all, if you didn’t want that promotion, job or work with that client, you wouldn’t be bothered about not getting it. This is an incredibly exciting thing. So many people don’t know what they want, so to experience disappointment is an illuminating light telling you “This is what I want!”

Grab hold of the feeling of disappointment with both hands and make a plan to learn as much as you can from it. Take the lessons from disappointment and make any necessary changes. Then, keep forging forward. 

Disappointments tell us that we’re heading in the right direction.

Some disappointments run deep, and it’s important to be gentle with ourselves and each other when going through this process.

Learning to embrace disappointment is key for bouncing back from it. It allows us to build a clearer picture of our priorities and values in life. Disappointment is a calling card for personal growth. Its sting helps to inform us of the changes we need to make to move us closer to living an authentic and full life.

What disappointment have you recently encountered with your career or in your personal life? How have you learned to move through disappointment?

Image via Tereza Janakova, Darling Issue No. 16

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