How To Make A Comeback When Your Career Takes An Unexpected Turn

Awhile back, I was attending a training seminar in Nashville with some friends. One night we decided to get dinner on Broadway and listen to some live music.

As we walked down the street, a patron let us know the next band was getting ready to play at an establishment, so we walked in excited to hear some great music. While the band continued to mic-check and sound-check all of their instruments, it was obvious that something was wrong with the lead singer’s guitar, and he visibly became more and more agitated with the situation. Ten minutes turned to twenty, and they finally issued an apology for the delay and started to play.

The music filled the the venue with some of our favorite country songs, and people started to sing along. But while the band members were giving 100 percent, the lead singer continued to struggle, singing briefly and then fiddling with his guitar and talking with stagehands. Suddenly he jumped down from the stage looking upset and shook his head. He walked past everyone and headed out the back door.

He quit. Just up and left. In the middle of the show.

Something in me would not allow this to happen. I had just invested close to forty minutes waiting for them to play, so I decided to find out what was going on. I followed the lead singer into the street and confronted him on quitting on the band and audience.

It was clear he was frustrated the show wasn’t going well. He was embarrassed because he thought he looked unprofessional and untalented, and the audience was judging him.

But rather than stay on stage and getting through the show, he let all those negative emotions get the best of him. He thought taking the easy way out and removing himself from the situation would make him feel better.

But the easy way out is ALWAYS a short-term fix. It never solves the problem. And I knew he’d regret walking away. So I gave him a quick pep talk, patted him on the back, and got him back on stage.

And in that five-minute conversation, I learned more about resilience, emotions, and the art of the career comeback than I had ever thought possible.

1. Don’t Let Emotions Affect Your Decision-Making

If the show had been going well, there was NO WAY that musician would have walked off stage. But because the band was struggling, and he was dealing with inner negative emotions like fear, shame, frustration, and embarrassment, he wasn’t thinking clearly. All that negativity clouded his judgment.

The key to career success during times of high stress is to remove all emotion, especially the negative emotions of fear and anger, and reason through the situation analytically. Seeing the situation clearly helps us to make rational decisions.

When dealing with major career decisions, or times of high-stress, try to step away from your negative emotions. When you can look at a situation objectively, you can make a better decision for your long-term goals.

2. Nothing Worth Having Is Easy

When things went south on stage, the easiest way out for that musician was to leave the show. He got to escape from the fear, frustration, and embarrassment he was feeling. But walking off the stage to solve his problems was like putting a band-aid on a bullet hole; it’s a short-term and completely useless solution.

The reality is that you will likely be faced with similar situations during your career, and you will need to know how to solve them. If you run from conflict early and often in your career, you will not grow the muscle needed to deal with these types of situations later in your career when people will expect you to have this skill.

That musician took the easy way out when he walked off the stage, but the decision would have eaten at him for days, weeks – maybe even his entire career. But when he shook it off, walked back in, and finished the show? When he decided not to quit on his band, his fans and himself, THAT’S the definition of a comeback. He chose the hard way and faced his problems, and that attitude is what will propel him to new levels of success in music and life.

3. Master The Art of the Comeback

Whether you’re a musician or an accountant, a CEO or a receptionist, the art of the comeback has never been more important than it is in today’s economy. All of us will have to pivot in our careers, and sometimes we will have to endure periods of frustration and stress.

Whether you are a young millennial entering your career expecting to pivot every three or four years like your peers, or you are a baby boomer making a career pivot late in your career out of necessity, we all will be making pivots together in the days ahead.

I don’t know of a single person who hasn’t gone through life without getting sucker-punched and being left on the floor gasping for air. But how you deal with those setbacks is what will determine your success.

In those moments where life has you down, be strong. Take a deep breath, brush yourself off, and get back up. Every. Single. Time.

There was a pastor I knew in Atlanta — an older man who had lived a long and happy life serving the church. When asked what his biggest challenges were in his ministry, he talked about bearing witness to so many great Christian men and women who were quitting: quitting on their faith, quitting on their marriages, quitting on themselves.

He saw so much potential in people, and it was disappointing when he saw them take the easy way out – especially when he knew their capabilities!

So what’s the alternative to quitting? It’s staying the course.

Anticipate those sucker-punch moments in life. Know life will knock you down. But also know you have the ability – no, the obligation – to get back up. It might not be easy. But you don’t want to take the easy way out. Do the hard thing and reap the benefits.

Robert Dickie is the author of Love Your Work: 4 Practical Ways You Can Pivot to Your Best Career. As president of Crown, he is dedicated to helping people create long-term plans for financial, career, and business success. Bob serves on multiple nonprofit boards, and is an avid Spartan racer and mountain climber. He and his wife, Brandi, have been happily married for 21 years and have been blessed with six children.

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