What represents progress to you?
Whether in your career or your life, what makes you feel like you’re getting ahead? Many clients who come to me for life coaching express concern about their progress. Maybe they feel like they’re not as far along in their career as they feel they should be for their age and abilities. Or maybe they have a certain idea of success that they haven’t reached yet.
When people feel this way about their career progression, I like to remind them that progress is not always linear. The old saying “two steps forward, one step back” can apply here. The saying reminds us that when trying to reach any goal, we’ll encounter setbacks that may temporarily impede our perceived forward trajectory. But the journey does not have to end there, unless we let itâ€”after our step back, we can take two steps forward once again.
Although it may be hard to see the value in setbacks while we’re stuck in the middle of dealing with them, the blips and turns that take us off course can serve an important purpose. Here are some ways to think about how going backward can in fact help you move forward:
Gains in self-awareness.
One gift that can come from a setback is that it often contains lessons about what works for you and what doesn’t. If you have encountered an obstacle on your career path, for example, the obstacle itself may inform you about your skills and preferences.
Let’s say that you are interested in working in a different division of your company to gain experience in a new area that you feel would be useful to your career. But when you interview for the position and learn more about what to expect from the job, you realize that itâ€™s not really something that you want to do. Itâ€™s a poor fit. Instead of seeing this interview as a waste of time, you could reframe your disappointment. See it instead as time well spent to help steer your career in a way that makes more sense for you.
Chance to regroup.
Sometimes a setback knocks you far enough off course that you need to take time to find your bearings again. In such cases, what started out as a problem can become a time to regroup and recover. In our 24-7 work environments, we may drive ourselves so hard to succeed that we rarely step off the track. A forced temporary derailment may turn out to be just the thing you need to take a well-deserved break before soldiering on.
Clarity of focus.
When things go wrong, almost instantly, we see things that we didn’t before. Failed businesses give way to fresh ideas; as we learn what doesn’t work, we recognize what does. In periods of setback, take time to tune into this clarity. Sometimes your truer path won’t emerge until you’ve stomped back and forth down some dead-end roads.
Another saying comes to mind in relation to this topic: “It is always darkest before the dawn.” When you’re embroiled in your setback-causing problem, life can seem very dim indeed. Your energy, zapped by the situation, fizzles from slim to none. But once the crisis passes, after you’ve taken time to regroup, you’ll begin to recoup your lost drive. If your setback has forced a change in your career direction, you may find yourself waking up with a new vim and vigor, having shed the troubles of your previous situation. Take advantage of this renewed energy’it means you are learning to step forward once again.