Career setbacks happen. Examination of the literature reveals little good advice for dealing with "lemons instead of lemonade." In general, the advice falls into two categories:
- If you are not failing, you are not trying. Keep trying and you will eventually succeed.
- Analyze what went wrong and learn your lesson(s).
I call the first one Cheerleader and the second Sage. Neither tells you how to cope.
Truth be told, I have explored the stages of grief that we all have heard about by now. Shock lasted about a day, with denial covering just a brief moment of that day. Anger and depression tag-teamed with each other, sometimes entering the ring together to hit me with virtual chairs. I never really got the chance to bargain about anything.
The past 2-3 months have included a bunch of introspective navel-gazing. My friends will tell you that this activity is not one of my major skills, but I had to do it. I needed to know what I wanted to do. I had to put in this mental effort to figure out what I wanted my career to be, and how I would move on.
I have now accepted my course. I will no longer have a title, but I plan to continue working in faculty development, on my own campus and others.
I do have some advice for others who find themselves on an unexpected path to a set-back. Stuff that is neither Cheerleader nor Sage.
- Dealing will take time. Most advice out there makes you think you should brush yourself off and get right back on the horse. Frankly, you probably have some bruises and cuts that could use some mending. You and the horse could both stand to cool off a bit as well. Don't be afraid to curl up and lick some wounds. Try not to excessively wallow in self-pity. (It's a fine line that friends and family can help you define.)
- Be nice to yourself. You will find yourself reliving every interaction that may have influenced your situation. You will likely find things you don't like, that you should have handled differently. And most of this will have no role in whatever happened. Try not to punish yourself; withholding ice cream or pizza or other enjoyments will not change the situation. New shoes can be great therapy (my A2 rejection pumps are still lovely).
The Cheerleader and the Sage are ultimately correct - you will eventually have to take more risks, and you will have the wisdom of this situation to guide your new efforts.