Tips For Managing Career Obstacles
by Joyce E. A. Russell
We all experience various obstacles throughout our careers. What sets us apart is how we handle those barriers. Do we allow them to define us or do we figure out a way past them? How resilient are we when faced with a difficult coworker, or our start up venture fails, or we are passed over for the promotion we were hoping for? Do we keep a positive perspective and take the high road or do we sink into negativity and look for revenge if the change was imposed on us?
Dealing with career hurdles may require us to take different actions at various times. For example, in the beginning when you are first faced with a career impediment, you have to recognize what is actually happening. That may take time since you may be confused about what is going on or why it is happening. Suppose the organization is downsizing and you just learned your job will be eliminated. That can be hard to process. Or your peers backstabbed you to your boss and you didn’t get the promotion you were preparing for. Sometimes, things can happen that just don’t make sense or you don’t have control over. In general, we have to expect that setbacks will occur in our careers, even if we don’t want to.
Career obstacles can be very difficult and yet if we viewed them through the lens of grieving that may be helpful. This is particularly true if the change was imposed on you and you didn’t pick it. For example, I just coached a young man who was downsized in his job and had to move back home, something he clearly did not choose. I’ve always referred people to the book “ Who Moved my Cheese” as a reading for understanding how to deal with change that is thrown at us. It is a fable and while it is a simple story it still highlights what happens to us when we get comfortable in our lives and forget that change is constant. While the story may not make the pain of a forced change go away, it does help us to realize that we have to be ready for change at any time. It also helps us to better understand why we are feeling so sad or depressed or stressed and frustrated.
It is valuable to look for what you personally need to do to change and improve which means listening to constructive criticism. Really hear what the other person has to say and ask clarifying questions to better understand.
It’s also important to realize that not everything about a career impediment may be YOUR fault – sometimes people just clash with you and it may not be one hundred percent you. It could partially be the other person and yet you may not be able to influence or change them. This is hard for us to hear, especially if we are very action-oriented and want to control every situation. Expect that you won’t have control over every situation and that not everyone will get along with you.
It’s important to give yourself time to grieve – to reflect on the career obstruction and deal with those feelings. This can be difficult for those who have an immediate propensity to want to fix something or move on. It’s okay to take time to just breathe and have those feelings of frustration, anger, denial, etc. Experiencing those feelings doesn’t mean that we will be stuck there, and yet we are often afraid we will be stuck.
It’s also important to bring some control back into your life, especially if the change was imposed on you. This could mean exercising more, eating healthier, getting more sleep, drinking more water, meditating, praying, etc. This would enable you to find the inner strength and physical fortitude to more effectively cope with the obstacles. When coaching executives, it’s clear to me that someone’s physical, mental and spiritual health has a lot to do with how they are able to thrive when dealing with career obstacles. It enables them to think more clearly in order to define a path forward.
Remaining positive is really important. Yes, it is good to give yourself time to grieve and express your frustrations. It is also critical to find activities that can put you in a positive mindset - whether that’s by doing things to improve your physical, mental, emotional, or spiritual health. But being realistic about a timeline is also important. Having a coach or counselor to talk to is really beneficial and can enable you to vent and then find time to be proactive.
Breaking down your future tasks into smaller tasks is really helpful for moving on and feeling like you are making progress. It can be easy to get overwhelmed with the magnitude of finding a new job or working for a new boss or being moved to a new location. Working alone or with a coach can help you to outline the steps you need to take to move forward.
The past few years living through a pandemic has placed an enormous weight on individuals at work and home. Recognizing the magnitude of this toll is important to allow yourself time to grieve and to realize that rebounding from career obstacles may take longer than in the past, and that’s okay. Building up your resilience by taking care of yourself is really important to managing career obstacles now and in the future.