Crushed at a career setback, here’s how Stylist’s social media editor, Sarah Lakos turned disappointment into a life-changing opportunity.
I was in a flood of tears in the seventh floor bathroom. 20 minutes before, my manager had asked me take a seat. I knew there was a restructure in the works and I had been quietly hopeful about where I’d land. “Here’s the organisational chart,” My boss laid an A3 sheet in front of me. My heart slowed and my throat closed. I didn’t get it. I wasn’t going to be promoted. What made me feel doubly-worse is that most of the team had already known what I didn’t. Idiot.
A less experienced but more consistent colleague would become my manager instead and, although they deserved to be rewarded, I was crushed and ashamed. My body prickled with shame of the rejection and failure type.
So I stood in a bathroom stall and cried. Because it wasn’t fair. But it also was very fair. I also cried on the sofa at home, and in bed that night. Waking my partner up, feeling like I couldn’t catch my breath, “I don’t know what to do next,” I muffled under the duvet.
In the weeks that followed, I held things together. It was my best ever performance of ‘incredible employee who nails her job and definitely deserved that promotion’ from nine to six. Then I would go home and pore over LinkedIn, applying for roles with a newly polished CV. I was looking for an exit.
In the weeks before my non-promotion, an opportunity to relocate to London had been edging into my eye line. But I was putting any decision-making around that off. I had been waiting for my amazing, life-changing promotion – bagging that would have grounded my partner and I in Sydney. Blinkered and over-confident, I had pinned a lot on this one success.
I half-heartedly interviewed for new jobs and the London-question became a matter of urgency. So my partner and I had a very grown-up, very nervous and giggly five-minute chat, consisting most of: “Should we? Shouldn’t we? What about [insert unfounded anxiety here]?”. Spoiler: we decided to go.
I told friends about my decision with a strange Grinch-like grin on my face – excited but also terrified. You know the look. Just weeks before I made the announcement I had been swatting away their, “when you’re in London, we’ll visit!” suggestions. I had been pushing this opportunity away from me so vigorously and now, it felt like a giant nerve-packed leap.
I resigned, we packed up our apartment and said teary goodbyes to our friends and family. The plane I was on was hurtling towards thousands of opportunities and unknowns. “How exciting!” I was honestly terrified and felt home sick already.
Fast forward 18 months involving a few emotional wobbles, I will never regret getting on that flight. It was all thanks to my non-promotion. The ‘failure’ to step into my ‘dream role’ had released me from my self-built obligation to stay.
My message here isn’t that every non-promotion will result in a relocation to the other side of the world. Or maybe it will? What I want to drive home is that if you are stuck, let down, or unfulfilled in your job, be open to the opportunity of change. It might start with a rude shock (’You aren’t getting the job’), and you should have a good cry first about that. But when you’re ready, look for the opportunity to take a jolty, scary leap. Nothing will be more fulfilling than looking back at the time you were the most brave version of yourself.