What do you do when things don’t work out?

Last week I wrote a column for my local paper on ‘how to find your dream job’. The punch line was essentially: you don’t, you create it as you go.

Here’s an extract:

The job I do these days didn’t exist when I was choosing my degree and planning my career. But even if it did, I don’t know if I would have recognised myself in the job description.

The truth is my career has evolved as I’ve grown. Each piece of work I’ve done, whether in an employed job, self-employed or on a voluntary basis, has given me the opportunity to discover more about me, what I do well, and what does me good.

Looking for the ideal job suggests that the answers are already fixed, and it’s our job to find the one we fit into. Maybe we have it backwards. Perhaps nothing’s fixed, and we get to create our world of work as we go along. In how we approach each problem, each opportunity, each email, each meeting, each client interaction. Then we can find (or create) the job title to fit us, rather than the other way around.

Perhaps our ultimate job is to discover what we have to give, and all the many ways in which we can give it. And the career journey is a treasure hunt, where we discover treasure along the way, rather than race to get to the finish line.

But that wasn’t the end of the story – at least not for me.

As soon as I finished writing, I received news that a book proposal I had been getting rather excited about had been turned down.

I hadn’t gone looking for another book to write. This one found me. The conversations, the ideas, the relationship with the commissioning editor had been so brilliant that I had gone from ‘ooh this might be interesting’ to ‘I can’t wait to get started!’

So yes I was gutted. But in a weird ‘Dammit!’ way that felt more like a set back than a completely lost opportunity. In fact there was definitely something there I wasn’t ready to see as lost.

In my column I wrote that we learn about ourselves from what we do well. But we also learn massively from what we don’t achieve. The failures, the rejections, the disappointments. Perhaps it’s the times when things don’t work out that we most learn about ourselves.

Funny how a rejection can force you to clarify your own thinking and separate what really matters to you from the packaging that it happened to come in.

Here are three questions I’ve been pondering. If you’re dealing with disappointment too, I invite you to join me:

1. What do I really love about this?

What do I not want to let go of? This is the spark that’s woken something inside me, that doesn’t want to go back to sleep. This is the essence of what’s truly worth pursuing.

2. What were the nice-to-haves?

What was essentially just packaging? For me the book deal would have given me definition, structure, a team to work with, an external deadline and a certain sense of legitimacy, and yes the advance would have been nice too! But these were perks. They made the deal better, but they didn’t make the deal. They were replaceable, negotiable, re-imaginable.

3. What else could it be?

That’s what I’m working on at the moment. Could it be a different book? A coaching programme? A blog series? A podcast? Something else entirely? Who knows? Sometimes it’s only in the absence of certainty that we begin to explore possibility.

So yes, I’m disappointed. My impatient self is annoyed that I can’t just get on with it. My ego is a little wounded and my imposter syndrome voice is ringing a little louder, but it’s most definitely not game over. In fact, the game’s probably just gotten bigger.

Luke Pamer

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