Managing career disappointment: How to handle it

Written by: Georgina Bloomfield
Published On: 25 Aug 2016

Career disappointment can happen at any stage of our working lives. Many of us experience some form of career discontent at some point. Why it’s happened is one thing, but it’s how we deal with the problem that makes it a big problem or actually a pretty small one. Whether you’ve been overlooked for a promotion at work or if you’re finding that your job isn’t what you expected it to be, career problems can be fixable (most of the time). See my tips on how to deal with these problems below.


What is ‘career disappointment’?

These are common examples of job dissatisfaction:

  • Being overlooked for a promotion
  • Being misled about the job role
  • Feeling negative about your role compared to what others are doing
  • Your expectations being different and somewhat warped compared to reality
  • Not being in a position where you thought you should be ‘by now’ (i.e. more senior)

Manage your expectations

First things first, what was/is your expectation for your role? Has it changed since you started your job? If so, why? Is it because your responsibilities have changed or that the job isn’t what you thought it was? Many of us when we apply for a job visualise what the job is actually going to be like. We imagine our new desks and work environments and we imagine our new colleagues and new responsibilities. In most cases the reality is very different. It’s not always a worse vision of what you once thought, but it is different. Think about what you really wanted this job to be like. If you’re just disappointed with changes such as the working hours, the commute or even the dress code – it’s likely that you’ll adapt to those things pretty quickly and you just need to give it time. If it’s something more serious such as salary expectations or what your role is made up of, then you need to have talks with your manager or HR as soon as possible. When you initially start a job there’s a small window of time where you can get these things addressed. The same goes for if you’ve been recently promoted in the company. Get things in writing to make your life easier.

Communication is important

If there are things you’re worried about regarding your job then you need to be open and honest with your manager. If you don’t address the issues in a frank (and professional) manner they won’t go away. Some things are just temporary and do go away, but the underlying issue needs to be sorted as quickly as possible because sometimes fixing the situation can take some time.

What’s gone wrong?

If you’re feeling dissatisfied but you’re not sure why, try to write down any reasons why you’re feeling that way – and be honest. Even if it’s for reasons you deem to be puerile or meaningless, they’re clearly having an effect on your wellbeing at work. It could be something deep in your psyche that you never thought would be a problem six months ago, but it is now. If they are small things then that’s a good thing – they can get changed and they’re not permanent problems.

Maybe you do know what’s gone wrong. Perhaps you took on a project that hasn’t gone as planned or you were overseen for a promotion. Maybe you didn’t do so well at something you thought you were really good at. Write it down and be honest with yourself. Write down any possible solutions you think may help too; even if the right solution isn’t in your control.

Get some perspective on the situation

It’s not always easy, but try to take your emotions out of the equation and look at the bigger picture. This could just be the start of your career – and not everything will always go your way. Are you working for a really good company – and actually you’re in quite a good position in the grand scheme of things? Many of us take things for granted. We always want more things, better things, and an easier life. There will be people who want what you have, and you’ll want what others have. The chain goes on and on. Try not to compare yourself to others too directly and think logically about why you’re feeling dissatisfied without bringing your frustration into it. If it makes you feel better, take some time to make a ‘for and against’ list about leaving your job then look at it again in a month’s time. It could be likely that the problems you placed in the ‘leave’ list aren’t so big after some time has passed.

Learn from what has happened

If the disappointment you’ve experienced is down to something you can control such as learning new skills for advancement at work then focus any negative energy into getting those skills that you need for next time an opportunity arises. The ability to turn a negative into a positive can be extremely difficult but it is possible.

We all experience career disappointment at some point. Some of it is manageable and some of it isn’t. The point at which you need to find a new job is when you can’t handle the negative feelings any more – or when there’s nothing that can be done to solve your problems. This isn’t always a bad thing. Moving on can be challenging but it’s exciting and full of opportunity.