MArch 20 – Setbacks and new opportunities

“Every crucial experience can be regarded as a setback – or the start of a new kind of development.” (Mary Roberts Kinehart)

There is a whole set of sayings that address how to deal with difficult situations. Clouds have silver linings, lemonade comes from lemons, winning at cards depends on how the hand is played, and so on. This quote falls into that set of reminders. It reminds me that in every circumstance there is something to be learned and an opportunity to start something new.

An acquaintance of mine at work sends out a daily inspirational quote to an email list. Yesterday he posted this one from Alexander Graham Bell, “When one door closes, another opens; but we often look so long and so regretfully upon the closed door that we do not see the one which has opened for us.”

These two quotes taken together give the recipe for success in dealing with perceived setbacks and closed doors.

Many times in life I have faced disappointment, I have found myself in front of a closed door, or realized that what I have worked on has set me back. Too often I have fallen into the trap that Bell describes, and longed after what could have been. I metaphorically stare at the door, wishing that it would re-open, when I know that isn’t going to happen. Meanwhile the seeds of new development, and the opening of new doors is happening around me and I am missing it.

Years ago at work I was interested in, and was sure I was ready for, a promotion. This particular promotion would put me into the ranks of management, it would have a substantial pay bump, and an increase to some fringe benefits. I had worked for years to prepare for this next level, and I was sure I was ready. I started applying for, and interviewing for management positions.

One in particular I really wanted. It was a position to manage a small group of very technical people working on part of our networking solution. The technology was familiar to me, and I knew some of the people on the team. I thought that my technical background and demonstrated leadership skills would win the day. So, I applied and was set up for a series of interviews.

Most of the interviews went very well. The technical interviewer chose to really push my knowledge of networking technology. His questions, and my lack of ability to answer them, made me feel very inadequate indeed. He was asking me details of the technology that only someone who spent their entire job memorizing could have answered.

When the interviews were done, I waited for what seemed like a long time. Finally I got the call from the hiring manager who informed me that the job had been given to someone else. I knew the other person, and had worked well with him on projects. I knew he was very qualified for the job. I was devastated. I thought of all the jobs I’d interviewed for that this one was the best. But that door slammed in my face.

For a week I went back to my old job and continued to work, but stopped looking for new opportunities. Finally I got myself together and looked again. The next job that I applied for was a lateral position to work on a Process Improvement team. This was very much in vogue in the company at the time. After a couple of interviews I was hired and started the new position.

The new position was nothing like what the other would have been. This new position played to my strengths of collaboration and facilitation. It allowed me to grow my project management skills in a very time boxed way, and allowed me to network with a large number of people in a variety of positions in the company. Within a few months on that job I had advanced quickly, and found myself receiving the promotion I had been seeking.

If I had been promoted to the technical position, I would have thrived for a short time. But, soon after that job was filled the company made a major change to the networking strategy. I would soon have found myself learning a completely new technology, or being considered a relic of the past.

The new position opened me up to a never-ending set of possibilities. I learned new core skills, honed existing ones, and started a management path in my career that has served me well even today. Had that original door never closed, I would not have experienced the growth I have. Only by enduring that setback was I able to set myself on a new course of development.

As much as the project manager in me would like it to be so, most things in life do not go as planned. There are twists and turns in the road, doors opening and closing, cards being dealt, and lemons being delivered. When I am successfully navigating this winding road it is because I do not dwell on setbacks, but instead search for the seeds of new beginnings, and the open doors of new experiences.

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