How to Rebound from a Professional Setback

How to Rebound from a Professional Setback

Rebound from setback

One of the most critical times in your professional career is right after a big setback. That’s because how you respond in the wake of whatever disappointment or missed opportunity you experienced can set the tone and trajectory for the rest of your career.

  • Transform adversity into advantage. As I tell my clients, “Failures and reversals are just dress rehearsals for future success.”
  • Get some perspective. Find a way to step away. Make a list of things for which you are grateful and thankful. Renew a neglected friendship or spend some extra quality time with your kids. Do something distracting that you enjoy.
  • Reach out and accept support. Ask for help and solicit positive support from people in whom you can confide with trust. Take time to grieve the loss a setback represents.
  • Acknowledge mistakes. With fresh perspective and feedback from others, evaluate what happened. If errors in judgment were made – or if you had false expectations – accept that so you can move forward in a healthy way and not relive that history.
  • Weave it into the narrative of your brand. Everyone identifies with challenges and adversity. But those who keep going become role models, heroes, and inspirations. Reframe your experience as a positive attribute and let it contribute to your leadership development.

Actor Denzel Washington had setbacks early in his career but he said, “I decided that if I’m going to fail, I will fail forward, not backward.” Uncommon strength and wisdom is born from difficult experience, so value the lessons learned from failure and they will serve you well for the rest of your life.


Make a list of iconic people you admire, respect, and take inspiration from in your professional life. For me, people such as Oprah, Princess Di, and Steve Jobs come to mind. After writing down 5 or 6 names, do some research and try to find out if there were any major setbacks in their own lives. Ella Fitzgerald was a homeless teen orphan. Steve Jobs got fired from his own company. I even heard that one of the guys who invented YouTube got dumped by his girlfriend right before YouTube launched, because he didn’t have a “real job.” You may be surprised and astonished by how big a role adversity played in propelling your favorite icons and role models toward grand success.

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Sarah Hathorn is a leadership development mentor, executive presence coach, image and branding consultant, public speaker & author. She is the founding CEO of her own successful company, Illustra Consulting, and the creator of the proprietary Predictable Promotion System™.

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Copyright © 2012, Sarah Hathorn, AICI CIP, CPBS

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