As a young writer trying to “make it” in NYC, I’ve hit many professional low points. I’ve been laid off, I’ve totally bombed salary negotiation meetings and I’ve had countless cold emails to major publications left response-less.
The thing that I’ve learned from the ups and downs of my admittedly short but tumultuous career is this: The hardest part of hitting rock bottom isn’t failing itself—it’s finding the strength to get back up and try again.
It’s hard, but not impossible. With the help of some psychologists and life coaches from all over, we’ve made a little 10-step guide to picking yourself up and getting back in the game, after hitting your professional rock bottom.
“The first thing I would say is to remember that failure is not fatal,” says Dr. Anna Kress, a clinical psychologist in Princeton who blogs about how your emotions can help you reach your goals. “We have a tendency to catastrophize mistakes. Catastrophizing is the irrational belief that something is worse than it is.”
How do you stop yourself from catastrophizing? Dr. Kress suggests giving yourself a reality check by asking “is it really true that this is so awful?” After asking yourself that question, she suggests remembering a stressful work situation in the past that you managed to get through by utilizing your coping mechanisms.
Rather than defining what happened as failure, Maria Salomão-Schmidt, life coach, speaker and author of FInally Full of Yourself: Unlocking Your Spiritual DNA,suggests looking at it as feedback. “A lot of times where people mess up is when they make it a self-worth thing versus a feedback thing,” she warns. “So, if you always focus on it being feedback, then you know ‘OK, so this isn’t working.’”
Once you’ve determined something’s not working, it’s time to make a change. “The key is almost never to keep fighting because fighting just creates more fighting,” she says. “It’s almost always just to step back and go back to the core of what you want.”
“The research on self-compassion shows that, the more self-compassionate you are, the more likely you are to be motivated,” advises Dr. Kress. “Most people think ‘if I’m kind to myself then I’m gonna get lazy or lose my competitive edge or not be motivated,’ but the opposite is actually true.”
When you treat yourself well no matter what, she explains, your mind gets trained to know that “regardless of how you do on that thing, even if you don’t do that well you’re still going to be kind to yourself, you’re still going to be supportive.” In turn, you’re inspired to take more risks as the fear of failing gets reduced.
While self-care is important, Dr. Kress stresses the importance between differentiating it from self-pity. “Self-care is about understanding your emotional needs in the moment. Recognizing like ‘I feel really disappointed’ or ‘I feel really sad about this or angry,’” she explains.
“Whereas, self-pity is the psychological process of thinking that ‘this should be different than it is.’ Self pity actually makes it harder to care for yourself because you’re not dealing with the emotions better there.”
“It’s only failure if you failed to learn something,” says Dr. Kress. Once you’ve processed your emotions regarding the situation, she suggests taking some time to reflect on it and take note of what you could have done differently so you can avoid making the same mistakes in the future.
“Figure out if you need more training, or if you need to get some counseling to work on a life skill issue,” advises life transition coach, Andrea Travillian. “Don’t move forward until you acknowledge the problem and start working on it. Otherwise you will end up with the same problem down the road.”
“Make sure you have a support team of friends and mentors to keep you going,” advises Travillian. Dr. Kress highlights that talking problems like these out with other people is extra effective because “everyone knows what the feeling of failure is like.”
Once you’ve taken all of the above steps, Dr. Kress says it’s time to “start taking action that’s contrary to the mood you’re in. So, in other words, if you’re sad, you want to try to force yourself to do something active.” This could be anything from taking a new class to going to a networking event.
“Those types of things can help you shift your mood, they can help give you some meaning to your day, they can increase your inspiration or introduce you to new opportunities,” she explains.
Sometimes, Salomão-Schmidt explains, things aren’t working professionally because “it’s some formula or rat race you’re in and you’re like ‘oh, the natural thing is to get this promotion and this promotion.’” At this point, she stresses the importance of taking a step back and wondering if this is what you really want.
“If it’s not working, it’s coming from the point of view of life is happening to you versus for you so, when you hit a block, don’t make it about a self-esteem issue; make it about a flow issue.” Take a minute to step back and see what needs to be moved around in your life for things to be flowing better.
“Life is always checking in with us but we’re not always checking in with it,” states Salomão-Schmidt. She believes that great strides can be made when you consciously acknowledge that you’re in control of your own life. Open your eyes and ears up to any other opportunities that may have come you way recently.
Do you have a friend starting a new company you could jump on board with? Do you have a contact in the HR department at your company who may know of another position you’d be a better fit for? She suggests you ask yourself: “Is there another direction I’m not seeing right now because I’m so focused on this one thing?”
Moving forward after hitting rock bottom can be a daunting task but Stephanie Moir, licensed mental health counselor and self-care coach, explains that this fear can actually be used to your own advantage.
“Use your fear, to help you pursue your future and do not let it defeat you,” she advises. “Fear is a great emotion to have and you would not be fearing failure if you did not care about your career.”