Dealing With Disappointment

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Tips For Coping When You’ve Been Passed Over

Into every academic’s life a little rain must fall—a promotion denied, a research bid rejected. It can leave you feeling more than a little down. What can you do to get yourself back on track following a door closing?

Own your feelings about the situation.

First, acknowledge how you are feeling. You may be sad, upset, worried or angry—especially if it’s something you know you were qualified for and that you have worked hard to achieve. If you try to push your feelings down now they will have a tendency to come out in some other way. They could affect your attitude, your health, or your performance at work, and that is something to avoid.

Talking about the situation will help you get some distance from the immediate emotional impact, but whatever you do, don't take it to your immediate colleagues! Discuss it with an old friend outside work, a professional colleague who works elsewhere, your partner, or a counselor if the impact is especially distressing.

Continue on with your everyday work as if nothing has gone wrong, and be prepared with a short, deflecting answer if anyone enquires: something along the lines of “what a shame, I was really hoping that would work out. Hopefully next time I’ll make it!” And then move the conversation on as well. How you cope publicly with disappointment may be a deciding factor in whether you get a second chance. 

Discuss the situation proactively, and only with the decision-maker.

If there is any uncertainty about why you were unsuccessful, make a short appointment with the person who made the decision, or the individual you can speak with who was closest to the decision-making process.

Keep the discussion unemotional and positive; make it clear that your intention is not to complain but to prepare yourself better for the next opportunity. Ask if they can identify a specific reason for the decision, and listen carefully rather than jumping into self-defense mode.

Think before you react.

Everyone is passed over sometimes, but there are occasions where it’s clear that you have hit a permanent barrier in your career and should consider moving on. Take at least a month from when your receive the news before you sit down to consider your options, then decide as dispassionately as possible whether it’s time to start applying elsewhere.

The only exception to this rule is if you feel there may have been some form of illegal or unethical action, such as age, gender or racial discrimination. If so, collect your evidence and discuss this with your union rep and/or human resources at an early date.

Reorient yourself.

You’re still in post, so look to the future and move on. Choose a new project or goal to work towards, something to take your mind off the situation and get back to seeing yourself and your role in a positive way. If you have sought feedback, let this guide your choice—you might seek additional training or choose a project that lets you demonstrate or strengthen specific skills.

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