How Early-Career Setbacks Can Set You Up for Success

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Written by Ann Brown
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Don’t call it a setback. A career setback, especially early in your career, can actually lead you to success. It can make you stronger professionally. Business photo created by creativeart – www.freepik.com

Don’t call it a setback. Turns out a career setback, especially early in your career, can actually lead you to success.

A recently released paper published in the journal Nature Communications found that early-career setbacks can turn into a stronger career in the long term/. Setbacks will actually cause you to have a stronger career than those who have a smooth ride early on.

“Researchers compared the careers of two groups of young, ‘statistically identical’ scientists: one group that just barely secured a grant from the National Institutes of Health — the narrow-wins; and one group that just barely missed securing the same grant — the near-misses,” The New York Times reported.

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The research found that after 10 years the “losing” group went on to have more successful and impactful careers than the group that had won the grant.

“Paradoxically, the near-misses systematically outperform the narrow-wins,” Dashun Wang, an associate professor of management and organizations at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern, and a co-author of the study, told the Times.

“This is not just survival of the fittest,” Dr. Wang said. “These people become better versions of themselves,” he said.

There are three ways, Michele Hoos wrote in the Muse to turn a career setback into a success.

First, is to adopt a growth mindset.

“You were smart or you weren’t,” Carol Dweck wrote in her book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success.”And failure meant that you weren’t. It was that simple.” 

Thinking this way can cause, Dweck explained, a growth mindset. People who are successful, she noted, believe that “your basic qualities are things you can cultivate through your efforts.” So when successful people have a setback, they view it as an opportunity to rise to a challenge and to grow, instead of a sign of their flaws.

Dweck advised not to let setbacks define you, instead think about how your setback can motivate you to make a change. 

The second way to turn a setback into a success, is to imagine a different future. “When going through a rough patch, we tend to dwell on the circumstances that have caused our situation. A better way to go about things is to think about how you can achieve a positive outcome in the future. If you’re unhappy with something that’s happened at work, stop replaying that situation over in your mind or wishing it had gone differently—and instead focus on how you want things to change. Then, work to make that happen,” Muse reported.

Finally, turn setbacks into success by redefining success. Success isn’t always what you think.

Instead of thinking of success as such things as a promotion at work or earning a perfect performance review, think about the meaning of success. “No matter what professional setback you’re experiencing, the most important thing you can do is to put it in perspective. It may be easier said than done, but if you can try to let go of your fixed mindset and redefine success for yourself, you may find that this setback is, in fact, something that will propel you to a future you had once only imagined,” Muse reported.

Ann Brown
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