Achieve Career Success One Step Ladder at a Time

Carlton Fisk

It’s not what you achieve, it’s what you overcome. That’s what defines your career.


The Managing Your Career series of mind maps and articles is designed to help you manage your career path far more effectively by providing specific guidelines to assist you along your journey towards your career goals and objectives. This series includes the following mind map topics:

Each article in this series has been adapted from the Successful Managers Handbook (DK Essential Managers) and related sources.


How to Achieve Career Success

Do you have high aspirations for your life? Do you dream about moving up the career ladder but don’t know what to do or how to begin? Or maybe you’re feeling a little overwhelmed because every time you take a step forward, you seem to be pushed two steps back. Life can seem a little unfair at times. However, setbacks are actually stepping stones for a better and more prosperous future if we manage them effectively.

This IQ Matrix and accompanying article walks you through the inevitable ups and downs of a typical career path while providing you with guidelines and suggestions to help you manage career setbacks and problems in a far more effective and proactive manner. We will specifically explore the following areas:

  • How to manage career setbacks in a more effective, efficient and proactive manner.
  • How to enhance your career prospects by focusing on the right areas for development and growth.
  • How to make the tough decision to dramatically shift your career path in a new and far more rewarding direction.

Each of these areas will be explored within this article and are also visualized within the IQ Matrix for easy reference.


Guidelines for Managing Career Setbacks

As with any life endeavor, we will always be confronted with problems and setbacks. In fact, the more relevant and meaningful the endeavor, the more likely you are to be challenged in ways that will push you to the limits of your emotional resolve. That’s simply the process of life, which manifests from the process of growth.

The more you grow and push out against your comfort zone, the more likely you are to face further setbacks and challenges that test your resilient willpower in ways you might not have anticipated. However, instead of dreading these challenges, we must rather see them as opportunities for growth, development and for progress up the career ladder. In fact, what we term as a “crisis” can, in fact, represent a turning point that reveals hidden opportunities that you may not have been aware of before.

Common Career Setbacks

Here is a list of some common career setbacks that you may need to face head-on along your journey up the career ladder:

  • Failing to win a promotion
  • Being demoted
  • Suffering a pay cut
  • Making a critical mistake
  • Losing your job

These are all challenging circumstances that many people struggle to deal with every single year. What these people might not understand is that in life it’s not what happens to us that matters, it’s rather how we respond or how we deal with what happens to us that makes the biggest difference in the end.

Life hands everyone lemons at one point or another. It’s the individuals who take those lemons and turn them into lemonade that survive and thrive in the long-run. Are you one of those individuals?

How to Deal with Career Setbacks

Imagine for a moment that one of the five setbacks mentioned above has suddenly forced its way into your life. As a result, one of two things is possible. You can either get angry, frustrated and break down emotionally. Or you can take charge of your life and circumstances in a proactive, conscious manner by applying some of the following strategies.

Think Rationally

During these moments it’s very easy to dwell on the setback and the mistakes that were made. However, this isn’t a very practical way of dealing with the situation at hand.

By dwelling on things that didn’t work out or thinking about how life could’ve been, just keeps you stuck in the past. Instead, we must begin to look at the situation rationally. Yes, things might not have worked out as expected, mistakes might have been made, and rash actions might have been taken. The key here is to learn from these experiences to help you avoid these same types of patterns in the future.

How about putting yourself in the shoes of your employer. How would you respond in their situation?

How about seeking out facts and answers? Maybe there was a breakdown in communication? Maybe there was a misunderstanding of some kind? Unless you think rationally and identify the facts of the situation, you will never really know why the setback occurred. Who knows, you could very well have missed a key lesson that is critical to your development.


Six Ideas for Climbing the Career Ladder


Focus on What You Want

When setbacks arise, it’s always important to remain calm and think positively by staying focused on what you want to do, be, have and achieve.

Setbacks can and will take you off course. However, storms are simply a part of life at sea. However, if you keep your compass focused on your end goal and destination, then you will always eventually get back on course. Yes, it might take you a little longer, however. As a result, you will grow stronger and more resilient than ever before, allowing you to fight through future storms in a far more effective and efficient manner.

Always Plan Your Next Step

One way to ground yourself and help you focus in the right direction is to immediately plan your next step.

See the setback as an opportunity that helps you lay out a new and better course of action that will lead you to a more fulfilling future.

As you go about this process be sure to think flexibly about your course of action and consider the possible advantages and disadvantages of the decisions you will be making and the actions you will be taking.

Gain Support from Others

When tough circumstances arise, it’s sometimes very difficult to see the light at the end of the tunnel. We become so absorbed with our problems and disappointments, that we fail to see with clarity anything but a doomsday scenario. In such instances, it’s worthwhile to turn to other people for support. Speak with your colleagues, friends, and family. Ask them for their feedback and guidance. Also, ask them for their perspective on the situation. Maybe their understanding of the events can help you see things in a new light, and this shift in perspective might help you to move forward with greater confidence.

Look for Underlying Causes

When setbacks arise, we often tend to look outwards and outside of ourselves. We tend to point fingers at other people, events, and circumstances that were out of our control. However, what we fail to consider is ourselves.

Ask yourself:

How am I to blame for these circumstances?

How did I play a part in manifesting these setbacks?

The moment we begin accepting full responsibility for our decisions and actions is the moment we free ourselves from living in a world of uncontrollable circumstances.

Reassess Goals and Abilities

Setbacks can often lead to rude awakenings bringing our weaknesses to the forefront of our mind. In such instances, it’s important to be completely honest with ourselves and take time to reassess our abilities and personal goals. Through this process, we might come to realize that we simply don’t have the skills or experience to perform at a level that is required. Or maybe we simply failed to use our skills effectively and appropriately at the time.

Furthermore, take a look at your goals. Maybe your goals need to be reassessed. If you’re reaching too high too quickly, then your self-limiting beliefs might, in fact, be holding you back — leading to self-sabotage patterns. For this very reason, it’s important to slow things down, reassess your goals, take stock of your skills and refocus your efforts more effectively.

Anticipate Potential Change in Advance

One of the best ways to prepare yourself for future setbacks is to simply anticipate possible changes and problems that could result down the track. Through preparation and diligent planning, you can effectively lay down a solid plan of action that will enable you to proactively respond to the challenges that life throws your way.

Consider the potential changes (setbacks) that could occur in the future and ask yourself:

What are the potential gains that could result from this change (setback)?

What costs could be involved in making this change (experiencing this setback)?

Who could be affected by this change? In what way?

What are the drawbacks and negative consequences of this change?

How will I deal with these consequences?

Have I been realistic about my assessments and calculations?

These questions will help you to lay down the foundations to make better and more effective decisions when setbacks arise in the future.

Career Setbacks


How to Enhance Your Career Prospects

Career setbacks will always occur even if you do all your homework and thoroughly prepare for them in advance. Setbacks are simply a part of life, a part of growth, and a part of our journey of development. However, having said that, career setbacks can be minimized the moment we begin focusing on enhancing our career prospects.

Within this section, I will provide you with some guidelines that will help you to enhance your career prospects in order to secure your future growth and development.

Build Your Reputation

Your reputation is the key to your future prospects and your progress up the career ladder. It is built upon other people’s opinions of you, your work-ethic, and your ability to get along with others. As such you must always be extremely vigilant about how others perceive you.

Ask yourself:

How do others really see me at work?

Do they see me as having specialist skills and knowledge in a certain area?

Am I considered indispensable? Or am I just like anybody else?

Do they see me as an intelligent and creative thinker who contributes unique insights and ideas?

Do they see me as a hard worker who puts the team ahead of him/herself?

What’s unique a valuable about me that others always talk about?

How does my employer see me? Do I add value to the company?

You might only be able to get the answers to these questions by asking your colleagues for their feedback, or by simply listening around the office throughout the day. Pay attention because this feedback is important, as it will help you understand how others perceive you within the organization.

Finally, here are some ideas that will help you build a powerful and positive reputation within the company you work for:

  • Develop a valuable specialized niche for yourself within your field of work.
  • Consistently go the extra mile to help others and get the results the company is after.
  • Work on developing your creativity and applying it to everything you do.
  • Share unique ideas, perspectives, and insights when the opportunity presents itself.
  • Cultivate enthusiasm and a positive attitude, especially during tough times.

If you take time to implement these ideas into your work-life, you will very quickly develop a reputation that will make you indispensable to your organization.

Do Things Better and Differently

To stand out from the crowd at work, you must do things better than anyone else and maybe somewhat differently to help you get the attention of the people that matter most. It’s however absolutely critical that you stay focused on results above all else. There’s no point in doing things differently if these things aren’t getting the company the results they’re after.

Consider Broadening Your Knowledge Base

By taking the time to read books, attending courses and workshops, and by broadening your understanding of your industry will help you to acquire the knowledge you need that will distinguish you from your colleagues. Consequently, when problems arise, and solutions need to be found quickly, you can step up to the plate and stabilize a sinking ship. Your new found knowledge and understanding could very well propel you to an unexpected promotion. However, you must keep learning and growing, because the moment you stop, is the moment you stagnate, and it’s this very moment that someone else will take your place.

Develop New Skills

If you take a 360-degree view of your work, I’m sure you could identify particular types of skills you must cultivate to perform this job at the highest level. In fact, you might already have developed and mastered some of these skills. However, have you considered complimentary skills that are not part of your job description, but could help you enhance your effectiveness, efficiency and results at the end of the day? These are the skills that you must begin focusing on today!

Take on More Responsibility

It’s often the workers who shy away from taking on more responsibility who are always the first to go when company’s start laying people off during tough times.

By taking on more responsibility, you gain more experience, which leads to a higher level of understanding, knowledge, and skill. As a result, you naturally become more valuable to your company and therefore enhance your career prospects.

Accept New Challenges

As above, when you accept new challenges you grow and develop yourself in new ways. This enhances your abilities; strengthens your understanding and provides you with valuable experience that is absolutely indispensable to your organization.

Break Unproductive Habits

We all have them, don’t we? We have unproductive habits that absolutely frustrate employers and managers. These habits often lead to mistakes and hurt the company’s bottom line.

To become indispensable to a company you must identify these habits within yourself, and begin today by turning them into empowering and positive habits that will naturally boost your levels of productivity.

Have a chat with your employer and manager and ask what frustrates them about the people they manage on a daily basis. Use these answers to help build the foundations for a new set of empowering habits that remove these frustrations for good.

Work in Different Areas of the Organization

By taking the time to work in various areas of your organization, will help you to learn new skills, gain new knowledge and expand your abilities in a variety of ways. In fact, your ability to fulfill multiple roles within your organization could very well be the advantage you need that will make you indispensable.

Enhancing Career Prospects


Making Career Change Easy

Having worked within an organization for a while, you might find that you’re no longer learning and growing. In fact, you might feel somewhat unfulfilled and bored with your current position. Alternatively, you might find that you simply can’t make any further progress up the career ladder, and you are therefore seeking a change in scenery. These are two typical scenarios that naturally lead to change.

Gaining Perspective

Before you take the plunge and change your career path it’s important that you identify possible gains and losses that could eventuate; consider how this change could affect your life, and take into account what you will need to do as a result.

To help you clarify things, ask yourself the following set of questions:

What are the advantages of making a change right now?

What are the disadvantages of making a change right now?

What are my motivations for making this change?

What are my priorities right now?

What is the potential to move up the career ladder?

What skills will I need to develop or improve upon to make this change work?

What knowledge might I have to gain to make this change work?

What sacrifices may I potentially need to make?

What obstacles could stand in my way?

How will I handle these obstacles successfully?

Before making any rash career decision, make sure to ask yourself these questions, and answer them honestly and thoroughly. Only then will you have the relevant information you need to make a practical decision that is right for you right now.

Tangible and Intangible Factors

When making a career change, it’s also critical that you weigh-up the tangible (measurable) and intangible factors into your decision-making process.

While researching potential companies to work for, put things into perspective and consider the factors listed below. Also while going through this list consider your priorities and what’s most important for you right now in your life.

Making Career Change

Tangible Factors for your Decision

  • Financial incentives including salary, bonuses, overtime, and pension contributions.
  • Location and commute time.
  • The expected role you will be performing and the responsibilities involved.
  • Expected expenses that you might have.
  • Opportunities for flexible work hours.
  • Opportunities for flexible holiday arrangements.

Intangible Factors for your Decision

  • Creative flexibility.
  • Career potential and prospects.
  • Company work atmosphere and culture.
  • Company team approach and attitude.
  • The quality of management personnel.
  • The quality of leadership.
  • Corporate goals, values, mission and vision.

Use this list of factors and the questions as a reference tool to help you make a very important decision in your life. They will help you gain a good level of clarity that will assist in the decision-making process. If however, in the end, you get stuck for any reason, then simply trust your instincts to help you make the right decision.


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Adam is a life coach, mind mapper, doodler and visual thinker. He founded IQ Matrix in 2009 and has created over 350 self-growth mind maps. He also has a Free 40 Day How to Doodle Course where he teaches how to doodle using simple daily lessons. Read more about Adam's story, and how he created the concept for IQ Matrix. Feel free to also get in touch and send Adam a message here.