IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Didn't get your dream job? How to get back on your feet after getting knocked down

Political strategists Susan Del Percio and Adrienne Elrod lay out a road map for turning any setback —at work or in your personal life — into a success.
Political strategists Susan Del Percio, left, and Adrienne Elrod, right.
Political strategists Susan Del Percio, left, and Adrienne Elrod, right.Travis W Keyes

Failure happens to all of us. Maybe it’s that job or promotion you fought for but didn’t get. Or perhaps it’s a relationship that ended in heartbreak. Or maybe it’s the campaign or project you put your heart and soul into that ended in a big flop.

With a combined 50 years of working in campaigns and government, we’ve certainly seen our share of ups and downs. And consequently, we’ve learned a few coping mechanisms that have served us well along the way.

Whether it’s setback in your work or personal life, here’s how you can quickly bounce back.

Don’t let the defeats define your self worth.

Sure, taking some time to wallow your despair in a pint of Ben & Jerry’s or a few days under the covers is part of human nature. But it’s how you rebound and get back up on your feet that matters.

Take an honest look at the situation.

If you truly believe you were passed over for a promotion because of a perceived weaknesses in your resume, make a list and if you can, work to improve those deficiencies. There are some things you can’t change.

For example, if you were passed over for a promotion because your boss wanted someone with a law degree, there isn’t much you can do about it, short of dropping everything and enrolling in school. But can you instead, demonstrate to your boss that the skills you have and do bring to the table replace the value of a law degree? Or can you show that the relationships you’ve cultivated and the deep knowledge of a certain set of policies has been lucrative for the company? Assess the situation honestly and determine if there is a different pathway to achieve your ultimate goal.

Remember (and it may sound cliché) that sometimes things truly do happen for a reason.

That dream job you fought tooth and nail for and didn’t get may end up being your biggest unknown blessing. It also might pave the way to your biggest opportunity yet. Take it from us.

Adrienne: I was passed for a promotion to be chief of staff to a member of Congress after stepping into the “acting” role for close to six months. While the lawmaker excruciatingly paraded a slew of candidates through his office, I wanted to quit. But I put on a good face and held out hope he would eventually promote me.

He didn’t, but there was a silver lining; I eventually joined Hillary Clinton’s campaign in a far more senior position.

Lesson learned: If I had been promoted, I likely would not have joined the campaign – a decision I would have immediately regretted. And the final kicker – I returned to the Hill after the campaign ended as the chief of staff to a far more senior member of Congress.

Susan: Several years ago, I was working with a client and the press was seeking a comment for a story running the next day. I expressed my strategy and the client disagreed, but eventually appeared to come around my way.

The next day, I read the story and thought ‘not bad, we survived.’ My client couldn’t have disagreed more – and let me know it. I was devastated, and it was obvious. I resigned, but it wasn’t accepted. The relationship was never the same, and I was always hesitant to offer advice, and let others handle it. This went on until the project concluded. Today I realize that I should have listened to my gut, left and dealt with the fallout instead of second guessing myself for months.

Kate Bedingfield, deputy campaign manager, Biden for President:

Early in my career, I applied for a speechwriting job that I really wanted, and I felt certain I would get. While I was waiting, I went to Ohio to help out on a special Congressional election, planning to only stay a few days and then head home.

When they called to say they had decided to go with another applicant, I was devastated, and very clearly remember thinking “and to top it off, now I’m stuck out here on this race with no other options and no idea what I’m going to do with my life!”

I threw myself into the press secretary work I was doing on that campaign, because I had no other choice in the moment — and it turned out to not only be a ton of fun, but also the place where I met a lot of people who helped propel my career in communications forward for the next 15 years. I can still trace a straight line from that campaign through all of the jobs I’ve had at the DCCC, on Senate campaigns, presidential campaigns and at the White House. What feels like failure in the moment can actually turn out in retrospect to be the greatest success.

It’s a common part of going through life that things don’t always work out the way you had hoped they would. But how you handle the defeat, recover from it and get back on your feet is what matters most. It’s the character-building tool that will serve you well in your career, in your relationships, in life.

If the cliché phrase, ‘everything happens for a reason’ helps you get through the tough times only to come out on the other end stronger, own it. The scenario on the other end can be a far better one.