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8 useful techniques for dealing with professional setbacks

It doesn’t matter how old you are or how much professional experience you have, failure is always hard to handle. Everybody knows that in the long run it helps them to develop and become a better professional, but that doesn’t make it any easier to deal with in the moment. That being said, there are techniques that you can use to help you shrug your defeat and move on enthusiastically. Here are our top 8 tips for dealing with career setbacks.


1. Don’t internalize perceived failures

Everybody fails. What makes someone successful is how they come back from failure. That’s why it’s important not to look inward and blame yourself and develop the mentality that you failed because of personal traits aka “I’m not smart enough.” Reframe the failure and think about the real reasons something didn’t work out. Were you unprepared? Did you underestimate the task at hand? Everybody makes mistakes and it’s important to understand why while being compassionate with yourself. “I failed” is a way better way of looking at it, rather than “I am a failure.”


2. Remind yourself of your positive qualities

Take time out of your day to make a list of everything you know you’re good at. The list could have both professional and personal traits. Any positive feedback you’ve ever received – jot it down. To get past a blunder, sometimes it’s necessary to be reminded of your strengths and remember all the things you bring to the table.


dealing with career setbacks


3. Adjust your professional goals

Sometimes we can end up with unrealistic expectations of what we want from our career. Or we want these things faster than they generally come. That’s why it’s important to be realistic about what you’re able to achieve in a quarter, in a year and five years. What you see as a setback could also just be the typical career trajectory in your field. There are a lot of things outside your control when it comes to your career.


4. Challenges = opportunities

The best, most innovative minds look at challenges as opportunities. They think about how they can solve the problem in an innovative way and in the process create or do something new. If you’re feeling particularly unmotivated about your career, look at it as an opportunity to reflect, consider career goals, look at the paths ahead of you and get a little creative.


5. Arm yourself with inspirational quotes

Decorating your fridge or notebook with some encouragement from great minds who have also dealt with setbacks can be incredibly encouraging. Take solace in the fact that you’re not the first person in the world to feel stuck, lost or frustrated with your career and you certainly won’t be the last.


dealing with career setbacks


6. Make a game plan with tangible goals and how to achieve them

Be realistic about your timeline and what you plan to achieve. Hold yourself accountable to these goals. Making a road map for achieving what you want next is an important step on the pathway to success.


7. Find a mentor

It’s always nice to hear from someone older and wiser in your field who can offer their wisdom and experience in your profession. They can calm your insecurities and nerves and also give you some ideas on how to move forward.


8. Be creative about your career opportunities

Have an open mind about what you want out of your career and the goals you want to achieve. If you’re too narrow-minded about what you want, you may end up not taking up some great professional opportunities. Just because a position isn’t your idea of a dream job doesn’t mean it couldn’t end up being your dream job in practice or lead you to that dream job later down the line.


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1. based on Frustrated, by Allan Rotgers, CC-by-2.0

2. based on The Office, by three6ohchris, CC-by-2.0

3. based on Inspire 🙂, by chattygd, CC-by-2.0

Photos and blog by Elizabeth Trovall

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The International Internships Blog is a collaboration by The Intern Group staff, alumni and current participants to give you career advice & tips, program information, & so much more!