Career Setback? Here’s How To Bounce Back

If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. As kids, we frequently hear our parents and other assorted adults spouting this sort of line. It certainly serves you pretty well in the under 13s netball team.

But then we reach adulthood ourselves, get a job and try, try as we might, it can feel like it’s not enough. It’s at this point we often encounter the new, pithier version of that old saying – resilience.

This wellbeing buzzword sounds mighty fine, but how did we get to this point and what does it mean to be resilient at work? Dr Melissa Marot, a practising psychologist and faculty member at The School of Life, guides people through these very issues. We hit her up for some tips.

Our relationship with work has changed

Expectations about work – both our own and what is expected of us by others – have changed. And that’s altered how we perceive our relationship to work in a way that challenges our resilience, explains Dr Marot.

It’s no longer a case of job = money = food on the table. Now, work is overlaid with another concept – passion.

Of course, freedom to follow our passions is a good thing in so many ways. But it also adds pressure, according to Dr Marot. “We expect and think that we have to have a passion for work and so if that’s missing, then that’s difficult,” she says.

Then there’s our inner control freak. We’re more in charge of our careers than ever before but, as Dr Marot says, again this can bring both comfort and anxiety.

On anxiety’s team are common workplace concerns like role ambiguity, regular restructures and external factors like natural disasters or political and economic conditions. Resilience becomes about how we “negotiate that grey space of what we can control and what we can’t control,” says Dr Marot.

It’s not just about ‘bouncing back’

The commonly understood definition of resilience as ‘bouncing back’ suggests resilience returns us to our original state. But more important is how we learn and change after experiencing difficulty and getting through it.

It also suggests you’re either resilient or you aren’t. In reality, our levels of resilience change at different times and in relation to different aspects of our lives depending on the stresses and strains we’re dealing with.

Dr Marot recognises the inherent complexity in all of this: “we need those stresses and strains on our system in order to be able to grow. But we also need some sort of framework to be able to grow with, and manage, those stresses and strains.”

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Finding your frame

So how do we engage our resilience when we need it? The first step is accepting the situation. Then it’s a case of building your self-awareness of what works for you.

Dr Marot lists finding humour in a situation, drawing on mentors, colleagues and friends and seeking insight from feedback you’ve received or advice from philosophers and psychologists as useful strategies. Reflecting on how you’ve dealt with past adversity can also help build resilience and professionals can guide you through identifying habits and thinking patterns that may be derailing you.

It’s about perspective and mindset

Dr Marot has found two ideas in particular have helped people she’s worked with. The first is perspective, which can help explore the disconnect between what we rationally tell ourselves (“it’s not that bad, there’s plenty of people worse off than me”) and how we feel about the situation (“but it just feels so bad”).

Perspective needs to be grounded in experience and not just an intellectual exercise, says Dr Marot. Her clients have found different ways to do this, from volunteering, through to bushwalking, music and art.

The second idea is adopting a growth mindset instead of a fixed mindset, a concept that helps reframe how we see failure. Dr Marot explained it this way: “with a growth mindset, when something doesn’t succeed, we might see it as a failure of the situation but it won’t be a failure of us as human beings.” The main thing is, she says “we don’t take it personally. We see it as an opportunity to reflect and look at the situation and do things different.”

You don’t just have to suck it up

Dr Marot isn’t suggesting you stay in a difficult job just for the Pollyanna-ish growth opportunities. What resilience strategies offer is a way to objectively look at the situation. “It gives us that sense of choice,” says Dr Marot, “then I have the choice to do what I think is best.”

Sometimes that means you try, try again – and sometimes it means choosing another path entirely.

You can learn more about resilience at The School of Life’s class “How to be Resilient” in Sydney and Melbourne. Tickets are $80 or $70 for concession holders.


Kate is a Melbourne-based writer with a mild podcast obsession. She’s awful at social media, so don’t go looking for her there.