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4 Ways to Overcome a Professional Setback

Feel like you're swimming upstream post-setback? Try this.

Kristin Meekhof
Source: Kristin Meekhof

Very few professionals, including leaders, have a perfect career path. And staying relevant in an ever changing world can be stressful, especially when mistakes occur. However, knowing how to thrive after a setback can be critical in generating new business, sustaining your reputation and creating more growth. Staying stuck in the error, instead of moving forward, can destroy your metrics and undervalue your relationships. Here are four ways to handle a professional setback.

1. Develop Awareness. My mentor and dear friend Dr. Deepak Chopra describes two types of awareness in his book, The Spontaneous Fulfillment of Desire. Local awareness describes where you are physically at now—for example, your address, and what your are wearing. Non-local awareness is knowing a part of you that is connected to everything and this includes things such as intuition, creativity, and insight. In working with C-Suite executives, I've noticed people often speak about their regrets by saying, "My gut told me to do A but I chose B."

A key to looking within (at your setback) is to recall what you were thinking and feeling internally when the problem started. There could be a time when you overrode your gut instinct in favor of following the opinion of a colleague or fear of upsetting stakeholders. Without awareness about your internal pressures and thoughts, it is hard to guard against a repeat incident. In the future, it may serve you well to observe others in a meeting before sharing your thoughts. It can be challenging to listen to others when you're accustomed to leading, but you can develop a wealth of information by watching how others interact. At the same time, listen to what your gut is telling you during the conversation.

2. Forgiveness of Self. This may seem odd and you might think it will have little impact on your overall work environment, but failing to forgive yourself for the mistake can block your ability to handle new opportunities. A lack of forgiveness is really hostility towards yourself. If you struggle with this, it can be a sign of low self-esteem. You may not feel that you're not entitled to inner- peace. If you write down your grievances associated with the setback, think about how you can help yourself and ask yourself, "What do I really want from this?" Also, you can ask, "How did I contribute to this problem?"

3. Practice Self-Compassion. By self-compassion I mean practicing lovingkindness both in words and actions, with the intent of assuaging pain in a healthy manner. Being gentle with yourself following the setback will help you feel more secure in making future decisions. It will also assist you with moving through any transitions that are less than ideal. Softening the inner critic may not be easy, so try repeating a mantra. The words you speak to yourself can be more powerful than the words you say aloud to others. Repeating a mantra can be a powerful way to help you restore trust in yourself.

4. Detach from the Outcome. Detaching doesn't mean that you don't put forth 100 percent effort into a project or fail to show up in a responsible way. However, attempting to manage all outcomes can interfere with the outcome. This can also block creativity from flowing. You will feel like you're constantly swimming upstream. Do your very best, but realize there are some things that you can't control. Detaching from outcomes allows things to flow organically.

How you respond to career setbacks can impact what you focus on in the future and how you expand. Remember, your energy is your currency, so spend it wisely.