Over the course of your career, you’re bound to have a few startling setbacks. In my book, A Leadership Kick in the Ass, I explain why setbacks and failures often provide valuable lessons that can actually enhance your career. The trick is learning to accept the lessons that setbacks can provide, instead of rejecting them. What follows are some tips for doing just that.
Answer the Holy Question
Here are the four most important words in the English language: What do you want? Think of your answer in lifelong terms. What kind of person do you want to be? What kind of ideals do you want to stand for? What kind of mark do you want to leave on the world? When you see your butt kicks as events that can actually move you closer to your desires, they become less threatening.
Initially, your butt kick will make you feel raw and vulnerable. It takes courage to allow yourself to feel these feelings. Courage is not found in comfort. Be courageous by embracing the discomfort your butt kick causes.
Control What You Can
Much about a butt kick is beyond our control. We don’t get to choose, for example, the timing of the kick, who kicks us, and how hard the kick is. But how we respond to the butt kick is entirely within our control.
For example, after getting fired, Pete, our IT director, could have control of writing his resume, lining up job interviews, working with an executive coach to process his kick, and more. Acceptance is easier when you have some semblance, however small, of control.
Reduce Judgment, Increase Honesty
When your butt kick comes, don’t waste time obsessing about all the ways you’ve let yourself down. Instead, get out a piece of paper and list all the ways you may have contributed to the kick. Be rigorously honest. Identify the lessons you’ll carry forward to prevent similar kicks in the future.
Nearly all of life’s greatest lessons come down to these two words: let go. Only by releasing your tight grip on how you wanted things to be can you fully accept things as they are. Let go of the condition that existed before the kick, so you can grab hold of the better leader you can be after the butt-kick lessons take root.
Career setbacks can cause funky feelings of embarrassment and humiliation. But growth is often an outcome of painful experiences. The end result? Good and rewarding things can grow out of that pain, provide that you accept the lessons that your setbacks can provide.
Setbacks happen to everyone. How have you turned a setback into a lasting lesson that impacted your career?
Updated April 2023