Career Setback in 2020? Here’s How to Make 2021 Your Year

If your career hasn’t progressed as you’d hoped in 2020, focus on turning the page in the year ahead. Here’s some advice from a career counselor with an association insider’s point of view.

Between event cancellations, declining membership, and job losses, there has been no shortage of setbacks for association professionals in 2020. Combine that with specific professional challenges everyone encounters from time to time, such as failing a certification exam or missing out on a promotion, and a lot of people are facing career obstacles at the moment.

Sharon Givens, president-elect of the National Career Development Association and a licensed professional counselor and career coach, says a career setback can feel much like losing a loved one. And plenty of people are grieving right now.

“During the pandemic, a recurring theme is that people are dealing with loss—loss of job, loss of daily activity, loss of time with family members,” says Givens, who is also CEO of the career consulting firm Training Visions.

Although it’s common to struggle with negative feelings when your career takes a hit, you can find your way back to a success story. Givens has a few tips for starting fresh in the new year:

If you feel comfortable sharing publicly, do so. Social networks such as LinkedIn and Twitter are full of honest sharing about career struggles. Some users who have lost their jobs have modified their profiles to show that they’re available for work. That kind of candor can reflect well on you. “You’re showing a level of vulnerability and just really being transparent—‘I’m available, I’m willing’—and it could show some employers that you’re somewhat of a risk taker,” Givens says.

Don’t be afraid to find another direction. With a job loss in particular, some may feel the desire to switch gears. Givens says the pandemic could be a good time for a career pivot if you have another area of interest. She advises clients that “we’re all going to be forced to change. So, let’s see what you have now that you can contribute. What else would you need to make yourself more viable? Then, let’s move in that direction.” She says a job loss can be an opportunity to refresh your skill set by pursuing additional education or certification. “For example, if you’re lacking in maybe technical skill, then you might need to look at how you go back and enhance those technical skills,” she says.

Find motivation in the things that went right. After losing a promotion or failing a certification exam, many people focus on the failure rather than the successes along the way. “When we experience a loss, we forget everything else that has gone well,” Givens says. “So how do you reach back and look at all the things that you’ve accomplished?” She points to the work of the late organizational consultant William Bridges, who focused on transition management and emphasized the importance of looking for new opportunities. People who suffer a setback often “don’t have the motivation because they’re focusing solely on ‘I’ve lost, I’ve lost, I’ve lost,’” she says. “But anytime you have a loss, there’s an opportunity for gain, which is what most people don’t focus on.”

Don’t take the setback too personally. Ultimately, a lot of the setbacks of the past year aren’t really anyone’s fault—and that’s important to remember. “I ask my clients: How personal are you going to take this loss? Do you think this loss is specifically about you? Or is it more about what’s happening in this current time?” she says. “I think that gives people a different perspective.”

(Dilok Klaisataporn/iStock/Getty Images Plus)

Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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