It was my first summer stock season after graduating college, and I had been cast in a five-show season where I would not get to perform the leading role I was chosen for until the fifth and final show.
It was a dream role (the Priscilla Lopez role in A Day in Hollywood, A Night in the Ukraine, for fellow enthusiasts). Meanwhile, I diligently served in the ensemble/chorus of each show, worked in the costume shop, and was a valued team player. When the time came for my long-anticipated show, the directorial staff decided that they would split MY performances between me and another actress who had not been featured in a lead during the season. This actress happened to be my roommate that summer.
I was 22 years old, and let’s just say I did not take it well. It was hard to hide my disappointment. Rumors began flying about my reaction and people took sides, pitting me and my roommate against each other. I eventually came around and shared as graciously as I could, but the damage had been done. I was ashamed at my initial reaction; I also questioned my talent since the staff had so easily dismissed everything I contributed while waiting for my turn (so much for contracts in non-union theater). It was not the perfect culmination of a summer season of hard work that I had expected.
Let’s compare this to you in your workplace or you as an entrepreneur, seeing your competitor achieve something you still hope for.
Jealousy will likely rear its ugly head if someone with less experience gets the promotion you worked for. I’ve said it before, but after you feel all the “feels,” it’s prudent to ask yourself (and maybe the hiring entity) some tough questions like, “What do I have to do to win the next promotion?” “What did this person have/do that I didn’t do (yet)?”
Fight your primal instinct to perceive scarcity. If you are an entrepreneur in the online space, there are plenty of buyers. You just have to get better at reaching them. In a job setting, you may not experience upward mobility, but it doesn’t mean it’s not there or that you couldn’t use your current workplace to catapult you to upward mobility elsewhere.
Watch the story you create about what this disappointment means. I alluded to my own experience of doubting my talent and believing that maybe that was why management had cut my role. What happened is a FACT. What you make it mean is your interpretation. Can you change your interpretation (without being delusional) so you can get back to business?
Grace under fire is a high order, but it’s something leaders embody. There’s a time to speak out, and there’s a time to pull it together and take the high road. It was hard for my cast to unsee (or not gossip about) my meltdown no matter how much I tried to repair the damage it had caused. Take 24 hours before responding to a critical email or a disappointment.
Create allies rather than enemies. There is some instant gratification in making someone the villain in your story or to blaming somebody for your disappointment. It helps you have a justification, and it’s less crushing to blame something or someone outside of yourself than it is to look inside. Not everything is your fault, nor should you beat yourself up, but reclaiming your better self from the hurt/raging part of you will smooth the road to whatever is next. Does a temper tantrum get you a recommendation if you leave? Does it build your reputation as someone others would want to work with? Those are the things to consider before lashing out and creating enemies in your wake.
In very distant hindsight, I’d say my 22-year-old self was far too accommodating, and therefore, nobody thought I’d have a problem being a “sweetheart” and sharing the role I sought out, kicked butt at in auditions, and waited all summer to perform. I still wish I had been able to take the news more gracefully, but over the years
, I’ve seen where both my competence and flexibility have hurt me. From what I’ve learned, I’m now conscious of when to say no and when to avoid overextending myself. I’ve also decided what behavior represents me and what behavior might be effective (like bullying) but is not what I want to embody.
What is meant for you? When we see our career or business as something with a long tail, we can absorb disappointments more easily than if we measure each action or opportunity as the end all and be all. If it was supposed to be yours, it would’ve been. Yeah, that over-simplifies things a bit, but it does lessen the blow and allow you to pivot or get on to the next bold move more quickly.
Maybe the friends from that summer all blocked out the trauma of my disruption, or maybe it’s truly forgotten because they too have matured. Whichever it is, the key to maintaining a positive career trajectory, even through bitter disappointments, is to realize that they are not the end of the road. They are a sign post pointing toward your ultimate destination. So, get back on the road and keep evolving!
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