Career Failure

5 Ways To Bounce Back From ‘Failure’ In Your Career

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Can you ‘bounce back’ from a failure in your career?

Recently, a 48Days Podcast listener asked:

“Dan, How much should we risk in pursuit of our career dreams? Are there failures that are fatal?”

Great questions. I believe there really are “successful failures” in our careers and businesses. That’s not an oxymoron. Napoleon Hill once said: “Failure seems to be nature’s plan for preparing us for great responsibilities.” Peter Drucker even added this caution: “The one person to distrust is the one who never makes a mistake. Either he is a phony, or he stays with the safe, the tried, and the trivial.”

So, part of the issue is – Do you want to do something great – in any area? If you’re content with mediocrity in your life, then you’ll try to protect yourself from any failure. Just recognize the trade-off.

As an author and career coach, I’m hearing from people every day who tried and failed. One gentleman lost $3.2 million he inherited from his grandmother in a failed retail clothing business. A close friend lost $24 million in a failed real estate development. Baby Boomers are being terminated after 20 years of loyal service and Gen Y workers are often shown the door before they have time to prove their worth.

Research shows that if you are under thirty years old, there is 90% chance you will be fired sometime in the next twenty years. Bernie Marcus was fired from a job as manager of the HandyDanImprovementCenter, then went on to start Home Depot. A few years ago I experienced a horrible “failure” in business – leaving me deeply in debt and having to borrow a car to start generating income again. Should I have avoided the pain and anguish by taking a safer route, or was that experience the necessary catalyst for learning the principles that launched the success I enjoy today?

My theory is that you will be a brighter, better person for trying something big – even if you “fail.”

I have been dumbfounded recently by running into several long-time acquaintances who are struggling for too long after a career failure. I’ve seen people who were used to first class all the way – restaurants, cars, private flights, yachts and houses. One long-term friend told me he has been selling his fine clothes on eBay to pay the apartment rent, totaled his car with no insurance and is asking for donations online for food money.

Why would a guy that like get trapped in a “down” position and seem to stay there?

It’s easy to see that failures in our careers often launch us into better opportunities. In the last two years, thousands of people have lost their jobs. For many of those, that unwelcome and unexpected event was a wake-up call that prompted them to bring a dormant dream to life.

At 32 years old, Crystal was working in her chosen field of forensics, but was trapped in a toxic corporate culture (which had driven her to the emergency room for panic attacks – twice). Although feeling the sting of being a failure, while recovering from home she initiated a job search. Today she’s the director of cyber threats for a major company at nearly twice her previous salary and in an environment where co-workers encourage each other’s efforts.

Here is what I’ve observed. To come back from “failure,” a person must have:

1. Supportive Relationships

Without others who believe in us we begin to question our value and worth. If family and those closest to you find fault and criticize, find those who will encourage and cheer you on.

2. Uncompromising Integrity

Nothing destroys our credibility and opportunities more quickly than breaches of integrity. Once begun, lies, distortions and exaggerations tend to feed on themselves and require more of the same in an attempt to maintain the status quo.

3. Clear Purpose

Without a clear vision for the future we become wandering generalities. Be able to convey with confidence your strongest areas of competence. No one is attracted to someone who just “wants a job.” Know your unique value to an organization.

4. Vibrant Health

It’s tempting in times of feeling like a failure to allow ourselves pity parties and comfort food, thus deteriorating another area of our lives. Use times of rebuilding to make massive deposits of success in your health. With the guy above who lost $3.2 million I prescribed that he go to the gym every morning for two hours. The physical stamina and creative energy birthed there allowed him to very quickly bounce back with career success.

5. Optimistic Faith

Believing that we are part of a bigger plan and that there is a brighter future up ahead is critical to coming back from any failure.

Maintaining success is these areas may be more important than adding another degree on your resume.


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Dan Miller

Dan Miller is a coach and author of the New York Times bestselling 48 Days to the Work You Love.

10 comments

  1. Excellent thoughts and good advice, Dan. However, I wonder how it works for people on the margins. Those starting out will limited education or experience can have real trouble getting anywhere. Or, in my case I’m 62, have 4 degrees through Ph.D. but they are all in soft (and dead) fields. I’m a “wandering generality”–good term!–of excellent writing and research skills, but discovered that without background in an in-demand area (technology and business seem to be the ones) this doesn’t do much. I write an occasional article and teach a few college classes for pathetic wages, and that’s it. Comments, anyone?

    • Bob From Virginia

      I sympathize and then some. I’m 62, and around 20 job changes in the last 20 years. I had to career change when I was 40. After all this time I finally discovered what I’m good at and there isn’t a chance in hell of getting into it. Now I’m am looking for security guard work. I keep wondering what I should have done when I was younger to prevent this?

  2. This was a well-written and thoughtful article… clearly the author has walked a few miles in these shoes. Thank-you for seeing past the pitfalls of failure as its really more about conquering the challenges.

  3. Great article. I got into a very big position right after school, and though i put in my best, my boss seems to see nothing good in me (plus i am underpaid) and i sometimes feel so low. Thanks for the article. Very encouraging.

  4. “Research shows that if you are under thirty years old, there is 90% chance you will be fired sometime in the next twenty years.” I have to ask – what research “shows” this? This isn’t a statement based on any fact at all. I think this article was a little bit too emotional. I’m also not sure why Crystal would consider herself a “failure” by being trapped in a toxic corporate culture. Just leave – if you are confident of your skills and can show the next employer how you can help them get results, there is no reason to feel trapped. Whenever I’ve left any job during my career, I picked up my skills and moved on. The word “failure” never entered my mind…..

    • I don’t think anyone should just ‘leave’ their position; not with this economy, I don’t care how confident you are in your skills. It’s best to look around and find something while you are still employed. Just put that effort in after work and hit it hard.

      • I did not mean to imply that leaving a position means quitting – cold. Planning an exit strategy is crucial. It must be well calculated and you must be confident in being able to leverage what you know and who you know.

  5. Hi, great article especially in times when things don’t look so great and you are not in your thirties anymore. Just to add a thought which confirms what you are stating: it was Randy Pausch who told his students in his ‘Last Lecture’ that walls are not there to stop us but to test us how much we really want something. They are there to be overcome.

    Thanks for the inspiration.

    Dagmar

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