At the beginning of your career, you’re most likely focused on making yourself desirable and hireable. You have run the gauntlet of rounds of recruitment and been outstanding and keen in your shiny new role. It is all going so well — and then, out of the blue, you hit a bad day.
Even if you love your job, this is going to happen at some point. Even if you are super talented and in the best possible environment, plans go awry and personalities clash. Mistakes and misery are part of the human condition, so naturally you’ll find them in plentiful supply in the workplace.
But do not despair. Here are some tips for surviving and thriving when it all goes wrong.
If you have made a mistake, tell someone. Never try to cover it up. If you had accidentally killed someone, you would make it worse by trying to ineptly bury the body.
Those exact words. When we are stressed or under pressure it’s tempting to hide behind sharky language, but a straight-up “sorry” is more powerful than any variation. You will be forgiven sooner if you just come out and say it simply.
Be aware of the dynamic
Everyone responds to failure differently. Ben Dattner and Robert Hogan identify 11 personality types for dealing with blame in their Harvard Business Review article “Managing Yourself: Can you handle failure?”
These range from the person who overreacts to every minor mistake, to the blame avoider, the blame denier, and the self-criticizer.
Consider who is surrounding you and know that there is never one correct perspective.
Treat it as training
What if your bad days are because of a bad boss? Throughout your working life you will learn lots from being close to talent, but nothing teaches you more about who you want to be, at your core, than working for someone awful. It is not much fun, but it can be a brilliant blueprint for how not to behave. Take comfort in knowing that the worse they are, the better you can become.
Talk to someone
Once the crisis is calmed, do not be afraid to discuss what you learnt with your boss or your team. Talking to those around you will make them appreciate your self-awareness and your desire to do better next time. Reflecting together is more useful than agonising alone.
Most importantly, if you are crying in the loos please remember: you have not failed at work, you are just having a really bad day.
Even when you are having a horrible time, you can still be taking great strides forward — building resilience, understanding and grace. These are hardcore, impressive characteristics that you get to take with you when you move on to your next role. Even the worst experiences have a silver-lined second life.
Keep going. You can’t avoid bad days, but you can get good at them.
Lucy Clayton and Steven Haines are authors of How To Go To Work: The honest advice no one ever tells you at the start of your career.