So, What Did You Learn From Your Last Workplace Setback?

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The truth is, everything that has happened in my life, that I thought was a crushing event at the time, has turned out for the better. You learn that a temporary defeat is not a permanent one. In the end, it can be an opportunity.”

This was a statement from one of the wealthiest people in the world, Warren Buffett. It is also a very true statement.

When we stare defeat in the face, it sometimes frightens us. It completely shakes up our equilibrium, but eventually, we will realize that it all worked out.

Your response determines your trajectory

We have all had those stumbles in life where it seemed like the end of the world, when we were so devastated. Looking back on my life I have come to the conclusion that your response to a setback will determine your trajectory.

How far you will move from that point is determined by how you react to the situation.

Respond in a positive manner and you are making steps to try it again with a different approach. Approach it from a negative mindset and you waste valuable time and energy instead of moving on.

Either way, it is only a detour and you should treat it as such.

My father’s favorite saying was, “You can’t blame a person for being down, but you can blame them for staying down.” That’s life.

“It is their loss, not yours”

We have prepared for interviews, we have researched the company, and we have made contacts within. We covered all the bases, but in the final analysis, someone else was picked.

We got the letter, phone call or email rejection and it rocked our world. Some would respond to that by moving on, while others would gradually fall into a state of depression. That could be because we desperately needed a job or just wanted so bad to get out of our present circumstances.

I remember going on a job interview for a well-known company, and I could almost taste the job. The interviews went well, friends in the industry said they had checked me out, but in the end, I did not get it.

When I came home that night my daughter, who was in 8th grade at the time, asked me what happened. As I told her the story, she could sense the hurt in my voice. Her response put it in perspective.

In a few words she captured and reframed my dilemma. She said, “Dad it is their loss, not yours.”

I looked at this little girl and know she is gave me a mental uplift, and I have never forgotten it. Her statement changed my behavior. From that point on, if I pursued a job and it did not happen, I chalked it up as their loss.

Take inventory

If we would go back through every defeat we ever had and measure where we are now, most likely we would see that it all DID work out for the best. Even if you can’t acknowledge it at this point, eventually you will see the benefits of it not happening.

But, you have to adopt the attitude that things happen for a reason. Yes, there is a reason behind it now working out, and in the end, it will show exactly why.

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We all have friends who lost jobs during the financial calamity a few years back. Some responded by getting a chance to reset their careers, while some wallowed in sorrow.

Some of those same friends still recite how it happened and how unfair it was. My response is, “How many times are you going to tell that story? How soon before you move forward and forget about it?” Remember, your response determines your trajectory.

Ann Landers once said, “Some people believe holding on and hanging in there are signs of great strength. However, there are times when it takes much more strength to know when to let go and then do it.”

Wallowing in negativity

The truth is, some of us love to wallow in our sorrow. We all know those people because as soon as the conversation starts, they bemoan their current job and how much they hate it.

My comeback is always the same: So what is your plan to get out? Walk me through the steps you are taking to make this career change. That is normally when the silence and excuses begin.

If you let go and really pursue your dream, you would not give a second thought to what happened in the past because you would be so busy getting ready for your new start. This approach works because it clears out the cobwebs of negativity and fear.

The time spent retelling your story and being negative could be better spent working on your various approaches to moving to the future state [that’s consultant speak]. The gap between your current and future is what you have to close. That is what we call gap analysis.

Driving towards the destination

Our life is about moving from Point A to Point B. We all have to choose our own destination and move towards it.

Detour signs will always litter the highway, however, the person that goes around those signs will reach the desired destination.

And when they do, they will reflect back on the journey and realize that each detour was there for a reason.

Ron Thomas is Managing Director, Strategy Focused Group DWC LLC, based in Dubai. He is also a senior faculty member and representative of the Human Capital Institute covering the MENA/Asia Pacific region.

He was formerly CEO of Great Place to Work-Gulf and former CHRO based in Riyadh. He holds certifications from the Human Capital Institute as Global Human Capital Strategist, Master Human Capital Strategist, and Strategic Workforce Planner.

He's been cited by CIPD as one of the top 5 HR Thinkers in the Middle East. He received the Outstanding Leadership Award for Global HR Excellence at the World Human Resources Development Congress in Mumbai, and was named as one of the 50 Most Talented Global HR Leaders in Asia

Ron's prior roles included senior HR positions with Xerox HR services, IBM, and Martha Stewart Living.

Board memberships include the Harvard Business Review Advisory Council, McKinsey Quarterly's Executive Online Panel, and HCI's Expert Advisory Council on Talent Management Strategy.

His work has been featured in the Wall Street Journal, Inc. Magazine, Workforce Management and numerous international HR magazines covering Africa, India and the Middle East.


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