Career Setback or “The Sky Is Falling”?

If it hasn’t happened yet, it will. Suddenly, seemingly out of the blue, you get – pick one – demoted, laid off, fired, passed over, or criticized for your execution of a project.

What happens next will determine your future for a long, long time.

When a career setback happens, it will most likely be very emotional. That’s okay; the immediate sting is a natural and human reaction. However, what you do with that emotion is what is essential. You have choices:

  • Verbally lash out
  • Snivel away making excuses
  • Suck it up and apologize
  • Stomp out of the room like an upset teenager
  • Own up to your mistakes and regroup
  • Accept your fate and move on

Which action will you choose?

As you navigate through this setback, there are a couple of mantras you might want to observe.

  1. Don’t burn your bridges. More than once, I have maintained a healthy relationship with the person that laid me off, and those relationships have helped me later in life.
  2. Do no harm with your words or actions. Words and deeds matter. How you handle a career setback will speak to your character, and this too will pay you dividends in the future.
  3. When a door closes, a window opens. I understand this statement isn’t immediately apparent, but in my personal experiences and in observing the experiences of others, in almost every case, when optimism surfaces, opportunities present themselves.

The natural choice you have is to use this career setback as an opportunity to re-evaluate your options:

  • Re-energizing your efforts at your current employer or begin the process of marketing yourself to opportunities beyond your current company.
  • Seek to understand your blind spots that got you into this position and take steps to correct what needs correcting.
  • Seek a mentor to work with you on your resume and coverletter.
  • Reach out to your network to solicit their support in your job search
  • Use this situation as an opportunity to rebrand your image.

Rebranding yourself is probably the most crucial step you can take. It involves learning how you are perceived and deciding how you want to be seen by others. Be intentional in this rebranding effort. It will require discipline and determination, but you will become a better future employee and person because of this work. Check out this article about personal branding: “Creating a Personal Leadership Brand.

But, the most important thing you can do is take this message to heart; Never look at a career setback as permanent or let it define you; take it as an opportunity to improve yourself and your place in the work world.


Rich Jones is the Founder/Principal of Leading2Leadership LLC. Before starting his strategic planning agency, he spent over 20 years in leadership roles in the financial services sector. Before becoming an executive in the financial services sector, Rich was an entrepreneur, building and selling two businesses and working for early-stage start-up companies in executive roles in marketing, business development, and seeking investment partners. With more than three decades of experience, he brings innovative thought to companies and executives. Rich published “Leading2Leadership, a Situational Primer to Leadership Excellence.” The book is available on and was designed to be used as a book study for leadership development programs; it breaks leadership skills into manageable situations for discussion and reflection. Rich works with credit unions, CUSOs, and vendors, designing digital, data, culture, marketing, and branding transformation strategies. In 2014, Chosen as a Credit Union Rock Star by CU Magazine, and in 2018, Rich received the Lifetime Achievement Award from CUNA Marketing and Business Development Council. A Marine and graduate of Colorado State University, Jones shares his expertise at

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