3 Ways to Rebound from a Bad Career Move

UPDATED: October 24, 2015
PUBLISHED: August 20, 2015

I’ve always wanted to travel and see the world and meet fascinating people. I knew I wanted a job that would allow me the chance to do that, all while growing my professional career. So that’s what I did—I started as an intern in the tourism and hospitality industry and kept working my way up.

But then I made a big mistake.

I had been working for the same company for a little over seven years, and when I first started, I had the opportunity to help grow the brand in the travel industry. It was a great job and I learned a lot. But eventually I got bored and it was time to move on.

I started hunting for something new, and a small tour operator was looking for someone to help lead and expand an existing department. The allure of having the complete creative autonomy to reinvent the department was strong, and they offered me more money than I had ever made, plus more opportunity to travel than I ever had in my career. I was eager and ready for a major change—and this seemed like the perfect way to get it.

Except maybe I was too eager. I probably didn’t do as much homework on the position or research on the organization as I should have, because after just a few weeks on the job, I realized there were problems….

1) Low morale, gossip, stress and paranoia were running rampant—a bad environment due to multiple departmental restructurings that resulted in layoffs, something that happened just a couple of months before I started. 2) Discrepancies between how the company and my position were described during my interview and how they both were in reality.

I quickly understood that the possibility of thinking (and acting) creatively within the organization would be slim and, consequently, so was the possibility of me affecting any kind of major change. I tried to make the best of it for a while. But when it was clear I wasn’t getting anywhere, I knew I had to leave.

Less than 10 months after I took that new job, I started working as a full-time travel, tourism and hospitality career coach. I was planting the seeds for what would eventually evolve into my online community, Tourism Exposed.

Now it’s been two years since my ill-considered career move—and there are lessons that’ve stuck with me. I learned that I love the freedom, flexibility and creativity of being my own boss; that having enough money is important, but more money will never motivate me if I lack passion or belief in a company’s larger vision; and that removing myself from the corporate setting, which was what I was always used to, was a great way to reflect on the next steps for my career (even if I did it during a time when I had just made a bit of a career misstep).

But even though I can look back on my bad choice as one that was a very necessary learning experience, I still understand why most people are fearful to fail and make mistakes in their careers. People looking to change their jobs or entire careers are reluctant to quit or a make a change—despite being miserable on the job and wanting to get away from our horrible workplace, annoying co-workers or abusive managers. Why?

It could be because we think that things could get better when in actuality, things might get worse. Or they might not change at all. We think that we’ll never get another job, especially if we want to change industries. We tell ourselves that everywhere else is just as bad as where we are. Or we think that if we quit we’ll permanently lose out on our salary, title, status, etc. and waste all of the time and energy that we’ve invested.

At some point in our careers, though, we will make some bad choices, we will make mistakes. It’s inevitable. But making career choices that resulted in us being unhappy is how we learn and improve our decision-making skills that help us create a career we love.

What really sets people who are successful and excel in their careers apart from others is the ability to escape dead ends quickly, while staying focused and motivated.

Here are a few ways do just that and look at your situation in a more positive way: 

1. Don’t let your mistake break you.

Whenever you face a setback, try to consider the positive in your situation. If you took a risk and failed, at least you took the risk in the first place! It may not have gone as planned, but you don’t have to let one mistake or failure steer you from your ultimate career goals.

2. Look at your failure with new eyes.

Challenges and even failure are required in order to move ahead and achieve a goal, but that’s really tough to remember when you’re feeling defeated. Try to develop a career growth mindset, one where you know that progress is worth fighting the fears that turn us into scaredy cats. Then, you can look at your situation with new eyes and determine how to proceed.

3. Learn from those who made it.

When you experience your own career setbacks, it’s helpful to speak with someone who can share some wisdom on how they faced a similar setback and emerged stronger on the other side. Getting feedback not only helps you to refocus, but it can also help you effectively deal with your feelings of defeat and remind you that you’re not the only one who’s ever felt this way. You can see how they embraced their negative experiences and turned them into positive ones, and more importantly you can use their methods to do the same.

When we’re faced with choices in our career, sometimes they work out and sometimes they don’t. You can’t be perfect in each choice, but you can grow with each experience. Because by taking risks and failing, we’re able to pinpoint what does work by eliminating what doesn’t.

Now, what I’m not suggesting is that you just try anything and everything haphazardly because it’s OK to fail. What I’m saying is that mistakes and failure as a result of bad choices in your career will happen. It’s not something to avoid; it’s something to expect, to plan for and eventually to become proficient at handling.

Accepting your failure doesn’t mean being proud of it, cursing the world for your bad luck, or admitting to yourself that you’re useless and should give up. True acceptance is understanding that you hit a roadblock and now need to figure a way around it, by shaking off negative feedback, receiving constructive criticism and moving forward in an innovative and exciting way.

Are you working at your dream job—or did you settle? Learn 3 ways to recommit to your dreams and leave that job behind to start your career.

Kimberly Ramsawak is the founder of Professional Jetsetter. She helps professional, ambitious women travel the world more and make money while doing it, so that they can enjoy the global lifestyle they’ve always dreamed of without having to give up their financial security.