It happens all the time: you work like crazy, put in extra hours, pitch great ideas, and then the sexy but dumb girl who sits across from you gets promoted instead. Life, as my third-grade teacher liked to warn us, is not fair.
There’s no such thing as a career that’s always going up. Even the greatest businessmen and businesswomen in the world have had to deal with less-than-stellar periods in their history. The ups are easy to handle. Everything has exclamation points. I got an amazing offer! I got a huge promotion! I scored a big raise!
But the downs are where we see what we’re really made of. I’ve had some major downs in my own career, most notably when the company I was working for a few years ago went bankrupt and I lost my job with a day’s notice. It was when the economy was at its worst, and many of my friends had lost their jobs as well. Although I was in a terrible situation, it was comforting to know that I wasn’t alone, and my friends and I were able to compare notes on interviews, job-search sites, and freelancing work.
A line from Ella Wheeler Wilcox’s famous poem “Solitude” comes to mind: “Laugh and the world laughs with you/Weep and you weep alone.” There are few things harder in life than being happy for someone when your own life is in the void. When someone is truly your friend and you care about them, you want to support them no matter what happens. But when people you can’t stand get promoted over you, it takes everything you’ve got not to blow up. Here are a couple of strategies to help you cope – and regroup.
- Remember that it’s not about you.
There’s no such thing as a career that goes according to the guidebook. What works for one person might totally crash and burn for another. Rather than fixating on one thing a colleague did that helped her get promoted, think about what you can do instead. Lightning rarely strikes in the same exact way twice. Case in point: when supermodel Claudia Schiffer was “discovered” by a talent scout at a nightclub in Dusseldorf, Germany, girls started flocking to the exact same club hoping to be noticed. But the model scout had already moved on. Rather than try to replicate someone else’s career path, focus on being yourself and playing to your own strengths.
- Reflect on the good as well as the bad.
During my first job after college, I kept a journal. Though it wasn’t only about stuff I did at work, I did talk a lot about my job in the journal. Years later, when I was going through the rough patch following my company’s bankruptcy, I found my old journal and flipped through it. When I realized how far I’d come in just a few years and how much I’d grown since my first wet-behind-the-ears assistant job, it helped give me a new perspective on my career as a whole.
- Take the time to try something new.
If you’re feeling frustrated or trapped by your job, this is a good time to branch out. Are you mad about the promotion, or about the fact that you’re stuck? Some soul-searching about where you are now and where you want to be might be the thing that finally inspires you to go back to graduate school, take a pay cut in exchange for switching into a new industry you’re much more passionate about, or relocate. You cannot wait around hoping that somebody notices you – instead, go be awesome and take care of yourself.
- Focus on the positive non-work things going on in your life.
A difficult time at work can sometimes be a blessing. It wasn’t until I lost my job that I realized what a strong and supportive friend network I had – my next gig ended up coming through a friend’s recommendation, not a recruiter or a job ad. For one close friend, her husband’s layoff actually made their marriage stronger as they both worked to get through the tough time. In my case, unemployment also taught me a harsh lesson – some of my “friends” in the industry stopped calling because I wasn’t useful to them anymore. In the long run, I was glad to know which relationships in my life weren’t legit, but it sucked to have to learn it that way.