Career Disappointments Gnawing at You? Reset Expectations.

High hopes fall hard. We don’t always get what we want even when we: 

  • Work hard
  • Plan ahead
  • Get good grades or evaluations
  • Know the right people
  • Play by the rules 

That’s because careers are about competition. Our success comes from meeting our employer’s expectations better than someone else would.  

Disappointments are about us. 

We get disappointed when our career expectations aren’t met.   

Each disappointment is a personal lesson about: 

  • The practicality of our choices
  • Our understanding of how decisions are made
  • The way we stack up with others
  • How realistic we are about our value
  • The way we come across
  • What our companies want 

Instead of moaning when things don’t work out the way we want them to, we should be figuring out why and adjusting our expectations. 

Our career disappointments often start early, offering clues to unrealistic or misguided expectations that provide important lessons going forward. 

Ask yourself what you learned about yourself when you: 

  • Didn’t get accepted to your college of choice and had to settle
  • Didn’t get that “perfect” summer job or internship
  • Got lower grades in your major than you thought you would
  • Rarely got a second job interview, thinking you were the perfect candidate
  • Only got offers for entry level jobs that didn’t pay well
  • Attended all company training programs but never got promoted
  • Saw coworkers progress faster than you did
  • Were among the first to be let go during a downsizing 

Time to get real 

Business takes no prisoners. It’s a bottom line, get done, show-me-what-you’ve- got, survival enterprise. There’s no time for coddling. 

Employees with disappointed expectations need to hit their reset buttons and develop new strategies for managing their careers. 

Recalibrate your expectations. 

  • Start by taking a hard look at yourself and the choices you’ve made. Assess what’s working and what isn’t. Ask, “Why?”
  • Reexamine your career goals and recalibrate them based on workplace realities. Consider whether to stay, go, or change.
  • Force yourself to see things as they are, rather than how you’d like them to be. Avoid taking a sugar-coated view of what’s going on around you.
  • Take a hard look at yourself, your value, your contributions, your effort, and your relationships. Fix what’s off.
  • Examine each disappointment against your career goals and plans. Extract lessons from each and commit to your next steps. 

It’s exhilarating to have high expectations, but it’s self-defeating to have unrealistic ones. 

Part of the career journey is to explore options, test ourselves, and try new things. Disappointment comes with the territory. 

We risk getting ourselves in a pickle when we: 

  • Let others push us in a direction we suspect doesn’t fit
  • Try to live up to someone else’s expectations for us
  • Convince ourselves that we’re exceptional when we haven’t proven that yet
  • Make career choices on limited or faulty information/perceptions 

When we let these things happen, we set ourselves up for disappointment. 

Commit to the ride. 

It would be nice if career success were linear. Most of the time, it isn’t. There are many starts and stops along the way. 

We see people pass us by on their merry way up. Some can’t understand why we’re still floundering. Our parents and friends may seem disappointed for us, especially when they think we’re down. But disappointment will come their way too. 

When you manage your expectations, you also keep your disappointments in perspective. Some of us learn lessons quicker than others. Some of us make our strides faster than others. 

You may need to switch direction, endure frustrations, bide your time, or start over. Everyone gets where they’re headed if they keep moving. When we stop, we allow ourselves to be beaten. Expect what makes sense and use it to fuel your trip. Then chalk up disappointment as a mere bump in the road. 

Photo from  KellyB. via Flickr

11 thoughts on “Career Disappointments Gnawing at You? Reset Expectations.

  1. Wonderful reminder, Dawn! I know for me, when my professional expectations continued to go unmet, it was time for a change. But that was after years of frustration and exasperation – your suggestions definitely can make it easier going!

    • Great example from your own experiences. Each of us has a “line in the sand” that, when we finally see it, triggers us to take a next step. The frustration and exasperation you mention are points on that line. One day we just say, “Enough,” and move on. At least, I think that’s what we need to say. Thanks.

  2. One thing I try to do when disappointment gets too strong is to just remember the movie Office Space. To me it’s the quintessential movie on your work life not matching your expectations of what it should be. I wish I could reach that Zen state that Peter achieves.

    • First, Ed, thanks for inspiring my post. Your discussion thread on BrazenCareerist got me thinking about this quandary. You made some great personal experience points there.

      I often wonder whether set ourselves up wrong when we strive for a worklife that meets our expectations before we’ve experienced a wide range of worklife experiences . It seems that the what we need to do is to allow our careers to evolve, moving our expectations forward as we bank each new experience, kind of like a game piece. At some point, the light goes off and we get clarity about what the ideal situation is for us and our readiness of achieve it. Too esoteric? Okay, I plead guilty. Great to hear from you!

      • The question, I guess, is how do you identify between the evolution and growth and just a bunch of sideways moves? I’m willing to change my expectations, for the most part. But it’s done on the belief that I am not the same as those who just drift through life with no plan, purpose, or ambition.

        • When a move doesn’t net us increased capabilities, a broader perspective, valuable experiences, and new relationships that feel like growth, that’s the sign of a sideways move to me. At one point in my career I was teaching high school, relocated and took a job in social work. The pay was so low that I went back to teaching. Instead of feeling like I was expanding myself, I realized that I had stalled. Not that teaching wasn’t a worthy profession… teaching was the hardest job I’ve ever done…it was that my need to test my capabilities wasn’t going to happen there. That realization got my attention and I started to explore a path to a business career. It took five years until I figured it out and worked my plan. Hope this helps.

  3. Late in life, no career, felt fearful mostly about risk, paying with no degree. Don’t even know/feel what I want. Feeling loss of dreams, lived in dreams, ambivalent about artistic gift. Don’t know what to do; must do something, but what?

    • Burning questions all! We can let the questions plague us or use them to discover what we don’t want as the path to figuring out what we do want. When I feel overwhelmed by options or obstacles, I sit down and try to simplify, taking pen to paper, and writing down what I can control and what I can’t. Then I put together a simple two week plan and see where it takes me. Maybe that will help you too. All the best, ~Dawn

  4. Pingback: How to Turn Disappointments Around with Career Fitness | StaffNet Inc.

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