He was the envy of 40,000 employees.
You’d see his face on the company intranet. He won all the career awards. He got a fully paid trip to an exotic location each year as part of the star performer program. The Chiefs were grooming him to take over the finance industry. One afternoon I came to the office.
“Hey, he hasn’t been around for a few days. Where did he go?” I said.
“Oh, he got demoted and moved to a regional office out in the sticks.”
I didn’t see him for a year.
The public demotion was the talk of the office. Everybody laughed at him. They wanted him to fail because of his perfect career record.
A year or so later he reappears in our office. He joined my team. It felt strange because he used to be a “Head of” and now he was a frontline pleb like me. We were the rats that dealt with the customer. We got paid peanuts while our bosses sipped lattes and did Facetime calls with their kids in private schools.
I liked the guy. What happened in the past rarely came up in conversation. He got on with the job. He knew there were judging eyes everywhere. Yet he stayed strong and wowed his little patch of customers.
After several years of slaving away he disappeared again.
“Where did he go this time?”
“Oh, the black and yellow logo snapped him up. They promoted him up three levels and gave him a massive pay increase.”
It turned out I wasn’t the only one watching. One of the more quiet managers had seen what I’d seen: a resilient son of a gun. That manager changed employers, and took the effort to recruit him.
None of my colleagues were laughing anymore at his demotion. He went from hero to zero and back to his rightful place.
A public demotion is a career tragedy that you can come back from with the right mindset.
The loss of a loved one
When someone close to you dies, it tears your career apart.
Yesterday I saw a post on LinkedIn from Tim Jones. He announced his retirement from the world of work. About halfway down I noticed this wasn’t a typical retirement.
One thing I did not see coming was a recent health diagnosis: I have a terminal cancer which has no available treatment.
My oncologist has estimated I have less than 12 months to live. This clearly focuses the mind, and so I have decided to spend the time ahead with family, some close friends and make 2022 the best it can be…
So that I don’t get left in digital limbo, will also shortly be deleting my social media accounts.
One can only imagine what this health crisis means for Tim. His family will get left with a big hole in their lives after he passes away in approximately one year. They will have to learn to rebuild their careers after the tragedy.
And they will rebuild.
It will hurt like hell. Then they’ll think to themselves, “What would he [Tim Jones] of wanted us to do?”
The answer will be obvious. Move on and let his spirit lift them up.
Crippling mental illness
Mental illness could have destroyed my career.
I distanced myself from all work events and meetings wherever possible. My team leader thought there was something wrong with me. I didn’t have the kahoonas to admit my dark secret. It stuffed up my career for years until I eventually got help.
The mental torture ended up being the best thing that happened to my career. The story became an inspiration for my work colleagues. My company embraced the fact I was willing to share the journey online.
No doubt it helped some people. Only a few have revealed themselves to me over the years and told me, how that vulnerability to share, helped them with their battle.
What doesn’t ruin your career can become a defining period of growth when you consciously use the situation to help others in business.
Going through divorce
A divorce becomes an avalanche in your career that can tear down all of your daily work activities.
You can feel like crap. You can stop caring about everything. You can say things you shouldn’t. You can let frustration dictate your actions in the workplace.
When my boss’s boss got divorced a few years ago it ripped her life apart. One afternoon my colleague let her know he’d be leaving the company. They’d worked together for a decade. The departure was expected.
She broke down crying in the meeting room.
Unfortunately for her the meeting room was a fishbowl office and all of us could see. She got fired shortly after because she lost a Game of Thrones duel with the other senior managers.
She ended up unemployed for a year. Her ex-husband took the two kids. She barely got to see them.
The woman that used to inspire me looked like a different human being. None of us knew if she’d ever get a job again. We tried to put in a good word for her, but the brokenness showed up in every job interview.
Then I got a new job. Two months in I noticed her walking the corridors.
“Strange to see you here. You got another job. Congrats.”
She got counseling. She repaired the damage with her husband and he allowed her to see the kids again. Her infectious smile came back. This time she took a job that was several steps below her old one.
“I’m not that person anymore. I’m going to reskill and apply for jobs in a different field when I’m ready.”
She’s now in a new job, higher than where she has ever been. She rebuilt her career better than before.
A divorce shows you what you’ve been neglecting. With that new perspective you can rebuild.
I’ve worked with several bankrupts over the years. It almost always comes down to one thing: they took too much risk.
When you can’t pay bills or rent it really disrupts your life. It’s hard to have a side hustle, go to the gym, have a killer morning routine, do yoga, meditate, or drink green smoothies.
You’re just trying to get by.
As a result, money becomes your primary focus. The difference is whether the person gets the lesson from their bankruptcy or ignores it. Whether they blame the world or take personal responsibility determines if they will rebuild. Many of them do.
They rebuild their finances to a higher level than before.
Because they learn about proper risk management. They stop taking dumb risks to get rich off a dog coin.
A good ol’ fashion firing can happen to anyone. It’s happened to me. It right hooked me in the mouth. I felt like garbage for months. I felt worthless, used, abused, and angry.
The best revenge was to get a job twice as good as the one I got fired from. It wasn’t easy though. It took months. I got more rejections than expected. The career gap messed up straightforward job interviews.
With enough determination you can reuse the negative energy and turn it into momentum. I’d go into interviews like a tiger ready to kill. I’d overprepare. I’d be a little more humble, thanks to the firing. I wouldn’t take no for an answer. I’d follow up like a golden retriever.
A firing shows us we’re disposable. We become wise. We see through the corporate fakeness and get down to business. That rebuilds our careers.
The magical trifecta
This part sucks. You can cop the career tragedy trifecta: get fired, lose a loved one, and suffer mental illness (perhaps even lose all your money at the same time, too).
Don’t mess with these folks.
When three tragedies occur all at once it rewires a person’s brain.
The enormous loss gives them laser-like focus. They get to the point. They ignore critics. They act like they’ve got nothing to lose (because they haven’t).
These individuals don’t just rebuild — they transform. They become superhuman. I wouldn’t wish this trifecta on anybody. But if it happens to you, get ready for the pot of gold at the end of this magical rainbow.
You will fall down in your career, that’s guaranteed.
The question is whether you will get back up. My advice is to try. It won’t be easy but it will be worth it. You’re good enough to rebuild your career. So when it happens, you know what to do.
Enter your monk mode and rebuild.