Six Steps for Handling Difficult Challenges in Your Career


What does your career mean to you now? How do you face challenges in your job or throughout your career? Do circumstances in your workplace get the best of you now? Are you mentally strong enough to embrace change and stress?

You may not realize how much it means to you until you are faced with difficult challenges or challenging circumstances that cause you to question choices made or your ability to be successful in this chosen profession.

When you think about your career in general, you likely realize how you have worked to cultivate specific skills that allow you to perform your job to the best of your abilities.

Over time you will gain experience and some form of education, whether that education consists of learning on the job or formalized education obtained in a classroom environment. You also have a level of dedication established for your job and career, and to your employer. But what does this development mean for you and your career?

The more time you spend focused on your career, developing skills and acquiring knowledge, the feelings about that career are going to intensify. If you love what you are doing you can develop a feeling of connectedness, accomplishment, and success. Your self-awareness increases as you focus on your strengths and expertise.

This also creates a sense of self-confidence within you and it shows up, or is reflected in, the tone of your voice, your attitude, and your disposition. Your work product also reflects this state of mind, including your ability to solve problems and complete tasks.

As you work in this manner you become a valuable resource to your team, organization or employer, and the industry you work within. You work hard because you have a well-defined purpose, and you care about the job – even if working conditions are not perfect at all times.

But then something happens, what I call a triggering event. You experience some form loss in your career, whether it is a job loss, demotion, or something similar. This career challenge has occurred despite the investment you have made in your career, along with the expertise you possess and have worked hard develop.

When conditions within a person’s job or career change, or something is taken away after having worked so hard to achieve success, either determination or despair can set in. If you allow despair to take over, this becomes a form of giving up. 

A better approach is to work on developing your internal strength, find a way to pick yourself back up, and work towards feeling empowered and in control once again.

What Happens When You Experience a Triggering Event

A triggering event can occur suddenly and without warning, or happen because of a series of events that seem beyond your control. Your career may be going well and it seems you are gradually progressing, even if the job you presently have is not the perfect fit for your career.

You care about what you are doing and you have worked to establish yourself in this career. The event that prompts a critical challenge can include a job loss, pay decrease, demotion, or taking on responsibilities that are not aligned with your skills, background, experience, and education.

What follows a triggering event may likely include strong, powerful emotions, along with feelings such as a lack of respect, loss of dignity, shame, humiliation, and failure.

The stronger the negative emotion is, the more likely it will have a detrimental impact on your disposition and even your spirit – especially if the reason for the event is not justified, never fully explained, or you can never get to the bottom of the situation and understand exactly what prompted it. Other feelings may include fear, anger, uncertainty, change, and embarrassment. You may even feel disoriented for some time.

The longer these feelings continue, the worse it can get for you. The question becomes: How do you switch from anger and frustration to determination and a positive attitude? On an emotional scale these are two complete opposites and moving from one to the other means you have to perform what may feel like a complete mental overhaul.

There are two approaches that can be utilized once you realize that you need to change how you feel. The first is to react immediately to circumstances. The problem with a quick reaction is that it can leave you emotionally vulnerable and eventually create a feeling of helplessness.

The other approach is to act in a planned and strategic manner, working to feel better in incremental steps. This means you are gradually changing how you feel and you approach a resolution of this challenge in a controlled manner – even if the only thing you can control right now are your emotions.

Six Steps for Handling Difficult Challenges in Your Career

There are steps you can take to begin to feel better about a situation that has occurred, so you can then start to address it appropriately.

Step # 1:

Acknowledge the feelings you have now without criticism or blame. You may experience a range of emotions beginning with feeling upset and then moving towards anger. These feelings are a natural reaction and you need to acknowledge them so you can begin to work with and address them in a productive manner.

Step # 2:

Accept your feelings, not the situation. You do not need circumstances to be perfect to feel better now. That may seem counterintuitive when faced with a challenge; however, when you realize that you have an ability to feel good now you begin to gain control of your emotions and this can change your point of focus.

The reason this is difficult to accomplish is that you can become accustomed to feeling good because your career is going well and it forms a conditional connection. Anything negative that occurs disrupts your conditional feelings and you may not be skilled enough to remain stable or feeling good about yourself.

Step # 3:

Reassess your career goals now that you have your emotions under control. Once you can focus again on your career, instead of the challenging issue and resulting emotions, you will find it becomes easier to make a plan to address the issue in a rational manner.

It is at this point that you can begin to utilize critical thinking skills and this allows you to determine the best course of action needed to continue to work towards your career goals.

For example, if you lost your job, your primary goal is to find employment. If you accepted an entry-level job just for the purpose of earning an income, you can redirect your efforts towards finding the right job for your career.

Step # 4:

Now is the time to redirect your energy and emotions. It may be discouraging at times to work towards another goal when you had your career successfully established; however, it is helpful to remember that the purpose is to improve your future.

You may not be able to keep your emotions under control at all times. What you will likely find if this is the case for you is that the more you can become emotionally stable, the easier it becomes to stay that way. At this point you want to direct your effort towards your career goals and keep that purpose in mind each day. Make a plan and devote time whenever you can towards working on that goal, until it becomes a reality.

Step # 5:

As you work on your career goals, take time on occasion to continue to assess and measure your progress. There may be factors that are beyond your control, such as a slow economy or a limited number of jobs in your chosen career field; however, never allow that to deter you from continuing to work towards your goals.

Here is another helpful strategy: Establish checkpoints to measure where you are at and if you have not experienced any progress made within 30 days, reassess your strategy and determine whether or not any changes to your approach are needed.

Step # 6:

The last step occurs naturally and involves realizing a newfound mental attitude, as a result of becoming productive, focused, and functioning from a rational perspective. The longer you retain this frame of mind, the further you will find yourself moving up the emotional scale and once again you will feel good about your career because you are in charge.

Even when you are faced with a challenge you know that it does not have to signal an end to your career as you are proactively working on the development of your career goals. This is also the point where you realize you have become accomplished in facing your challenge and not willing to allow circumstance to change how you feel.

Facing difficult challenges in your career is never easy, especially when it puts you in a less than desirable situation for your job. What is important to remember is that you can accomplish anything you set out to do and any situation can be changed in time. Never allow yourself to give up or give in when you experience negative conditions.

As you work on your self-development, you will also develop a sense of balance. Yes, life can be challenging. But these challenges can teach you about your ability to be strong, determined, and how to persevere during any situation you experience. If you believe you have made mistakes, remember how valuable these lessons can be.

Within you is an amazing source of strength. Are you ready to tap into it now?

Bruce A. Johnson, Ph.D., MBA

Dr. J Available Now: Academic Leader Specializes in Faculty Development, Distance Learning, Higher Ed, & Adult Education

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