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

Disappointment Got You Down? Dig In. Bounce Back.

Things don’t always go our way at work. Sometimes it’s because we haven’t: 

  • Mastered all the skills we need
  • Performed well at the right time
  • Solidified our support system
  • Been realistic about our readiness

That leaves us open to disappointment when we don’t:

  • Get hired for a job we really want
  • Promoted to a position when we believe we’re the best candidate
  • Hear our name mentioned as a key project contributor
  • Get included in issues discussions around our areas of expertise

These letdowns make us feel like we’ve fallen short.  So we:

  • Berate ourselves with a pile of negatives that make us feel worse
  • Let our performance decline by slowing our pace, losing our creative energy, and allowing our drive to wane
  • Give up putting ourselves “out there” for future opportunities
  • Ignore the lessons about what we can do better and how we can bounce back

Everyone gets discouraged. 

We often forget that everyone gets smacked with disappointment. Some hide it well and others make a drama out of it.

The big lesson is that disappointment is the cause of performance decline. Successful people don’t let that decline hang around very long.

Professional sports let you see, literally, how disappointment hurts performance:

I’ve heard Patrick McEnroe, ESPN commentator and former U.S. Davis Cup Team captain, report that losing the first set in tennis often causes a temporary lowering of player performance.

Some professional golfers who have blown leads in major championships fail to make the cut at their next tournament.

Basketball players who miss key shots at the end of tight games will often pass the ball rather than shoot in subsequent games.

It’s about attitude and confidence.

Winners know how to manage disappointment and preserve their confidence. They quickly come to terms with disappointing situations by putting them in perspective. They:

  • Analyze the contributing factors—their knowledge, skill, experience, the environment, situational politics, and/or relationships
  • Examine their choices—what they did and said, their timing, strategy, and plan
  • Consider their expectations—how realistic were they, how appropriate,  how egoistic, and how balanced
  • Weigh the results—how important are they in the short and long-term, what are the implications on their careers, what will it take to get another opportunity

We tend to give our disappointments bigger significance than they deserve. We feed ourselves negative lines like:

  • I’ll never get another shot at that job.
  • I blew that promotion interview, so that hiring manager will never consider me again.
  • I must not have what it takes to succeed in this company.

For some reason, we think we have the inside track on why things aren’t going our way. If that’s you, then here’s your next step:

Ask your boss or HR or your mentor or a trusted coworker what the real issue is. 

Believe it or not, sometimes our expectations aren’t met because of business situations that we simply don’t know about. Things don’t always have to do with us.

In our careers, we can only control what we can control, and that’s our performance. 

You can’t allow your disappointment to cause your productivity to decline, your creativity to slump, or your attitude to darken.

The people in your organization who disappoint you know it. They don’t like it any better than you do. That’s just how things happen in business and in life.

But they do watch how you bounce back from it. Showcasing your can-do, will-do, want-to-do attitude in the face of disappointment is a sign of what you’re made of.

Athletes complete the game no matter how far behind they are. That’s what the crowd pays to see—not quitters who walk off the field of play.

Our employers hire us to work in good times and bad. They expect us to stay in the game with them.

There’s no pride in giving up or beating yourself up when things aren’t working out your way. Instead, show your bounce.

Photo from CJ Isherwood via Flickr