Lessons Learned: A Career Comeback

One of the worst things to happen to me turned out to be one of the best. You’ve heard that story, right? Tragedy to triumph? Bitter to better?

Here’s my story and what I learned along the way. Anyone who has ever been overlooked, disrespected or had their good ideas stolen in their work can relate.

My first job out of college was at an advertising agency.  I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life but advertising seemed to incorporate the English, business and communication I studied in college. Plus, it sounded fun and interesting.

It was not.  At least not in my role as an administrative assistant. Yet I was intrigued by what others would call a “poor working environment.” Turnover was high. Morale was low. The customer was an afterthought.  I knew that all that could be changed – that people could feel more alive in their jobs while ensuring the customer was happy and the company was profitable.

I interviewed smart, ambitious entry level personnel, who felt discouraged and overlooked when the promotions were filled by people from outside of the company.  I talked to new creative staff and account executives who came in and hit the ground running, knowing little about the agency or its customer.  I spoke with seasoned executives who lamented that no one seemed to care anymore.  I integrated their insights, ideas and suggestions with my own observations and created a proposal to implement a program that would allow seasoned people to train and mentor newer folks, better integrate with the customer, and grow the business from within.

I found an audience with the VP of Operations. He listened. He asked questions. He arranged subsequent meetings with others in the company. Yay for me! But I knew nothing about corporate politics and my boss wasn’t impressed with my passion or that I went over her head with my proposal.  My proposal, however, had legs. It would, company leaders told me, be implemented with someone in the newly created position at the helm. But it wouldn’t be me. My outraged boss saw to that. I was told that there was just too much controversy.

I was crushed.  I remember walked across the agency’s glossy floors and out the tall glass double doors, burning with animosity, rage, and frustration.

In the weeks that followed, the anger and bitterness gradually released. And in that space I found a sense of calm clarity.  I was onto something.  Could there be a way to work with corporate employees to identify latent talents for the good of the people and the company’s bottom line? I plowed through the soul-searching exercises of What Color is Your Parachute and later discovered that many corporations have a department called organization development that did the kind of things I tried to do at the advertising agency.

I interviewed people who actually did these jobs. What did they love about their work? What didn’t they love? What would they advise someone like me who wanted to break into the field?  At the end of every interview, I asked for the names and numbers of three more people to speak with.  It wasn’t long before one of the people I spoke with called me with an opportunity to do an internship at a local hospital in their organization development department.

I learned the ropes from talented mentors who allowed me to participate in projects I found challenging and rewarding. In less than a year, I was offered a permanent position that I never knew existed during college when I was wondering what I wanted to do with my life. Each subsequent opportunity helped me refine and hone what I love to do.

I am so grateful – so utterly grateful – that I got a kick in the pants early on, despite it being unfair.

Here’s why:

  • I discovered heart-crushing disappointment could be the catalyst to learning more about myself. By combining this frustration fuel and new knowledge, I made the most of an experience by not settling, but finding the work I was meant to do.
  • I’ve learned that frustration, anger and sadness may often be the precursor to amazing opportunities. I let myself be angry for a short period and then I challenged myself to take positive action. The action steps brought me closer to where I really wanted to be instead of staying mired in a situation I didn’t want.
  • I know it’s OK not to know exactly what I want to do with my life. The experience taught me that whatever I do now, can and will ultimately prepare me for the next opportunity. If I can learn to love where I am, whatever job I’m doing in some way, I will learn what aspects of that particular job excite me. That’s information I can use when choosing the next opportunity.
  • I realized I don’t necessarily have to leave my job or company to do something I love. By paying attention to what intrigues me and taking action that align with my natural curiosities and talents, it’s possible I could be directed to a whole, new role – one that is custom designed for me. (Even if that job doesn’t happen to be posted on the company’s job board.)
  • I learned the importance of risk-taking and releasing expectations about the direction of a particular career path. Though I initially thought the risk I took ended in failure when I didn’t get the position I helped create, it opened my eyes to opportunities I didn’t even know existed.  It prepared me for a career in an organization that was far more aligned with my interests and values.

Photo credit: Ms. Phoenix

About Diane Bolden

Diane Bolden is passionate about helping people actualize their brilliance in a way that inspires others to do the same. In addition to being the author of The Pinocchio Principle ~ Becoming the Leader You Were Born to Be, Diane is an executive coach, speaker, yoga lover and mother of three. Join Diane On the Road to Real, visit her Synchronistically Speaking blog, follow her on Twitter;, or visit her YouTube channel for more.

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