How To Handle a Career Setback with Finesse

I started writing about my attempts to get pregnant a little over two years ago, in May 2010. I had been asked to launch a parenting blog for YourTango, and the timing seemed fortuitous. By September 2011, however, I was writing about infertility, and my husband and I had made our first appointment at a fertility clinic about a half hour away.

After a long series of tests, we finally started a medication cycle early last month. Michael injected me every evening with a medication designed to boost follicular growth. Almost every other morning, I woke up early to drive to the fertility center, where I received bloodwork and an ultrasound. After being artificially inseminated, I started taking progesterone pills twice a day, which made me break out to an extent reminiscent of my junior high years (sigh).

This past Sunday, I woke up early once again to get my last bit of bloodwork. This one would be a pregnancy test.

Several hours later, we received a call from the center.

It hadn’t worked.

In our lives and in our careers, there will inevitably be setbacks. The trick is in remembering how good you have it… how lucky you are… how much you’ve accomplished. And then pushing on.

Now I’m not about to tell you that the failure of the IUI treatments didn’t upset me. When I hung up the phone, I pulled the comforter over my head and started sobbing. But when I finally regained control of myself, I said to my husband, “Okay. The nurse said it might take a few tries. We can try this again two or three more times. And then we can try IVF. And then we can consider adoption. It’ll happen for us eventually.”

I tried to be rational, and to let go of the deep disappointment I was feeling. I knew my husband was hurting, too, and I wanted to be strong for him. I also didn’t want to lose sight of the fact that — despite this setback — I was still a very lucky person. We were a very lucky couple. As I do now whenever I feel anger or disappointment or frustration, I made myself say: X just happened, but I still feel very grateful for Y.

I do the same thing when it comes to setbacks in my career.

In late November, I began querying literary agents. By January, I’d signed with one, and we started working together to make my book proposal the best little book proposal it could possibly be. Then, the other month, my agent started passing it around to publishers. At first, there was a lot of interest. Even my first-choice publisher seemed excited about my idea. But little by little, the rejections started rolling in.

Then, the other week, my agent emailed to tell me my top choice publisher had decided to pass on my book. They loved me. They loved my voice. They were eager to work with me in the future.

But this just wasn’t The One.

Upon reading this (and even though my agent was continuing to send my proposal around to smaller publishers) I panicked. Even though I was passionate about my book and its message, I started to worry that I didn’t have a story to tell… or at least not one others were interested in reading.

Then my writing partner laid the smack down and yelled some sense into me for, like, two hours.

So I forced myself to do my little exercise.

This Horribly Disappointing Thing just happened, but I still feel grateful because:

  • I have an agent who believes in me.
  • I have a writing partner who believes in me.
  • I have a writing voice that has led multiple publishers to send me the most flattering rejection letters ever. This means I’m far from finished.
  • I have a message that I know others want to hear.

Then I got back to work, goddammit.

I’m a firm believer in the idea that victims are made not by their circumstances, but by their reactions to their circumstances. In short, if you can see the silver lining in a shitty storm cloud, you will bounce back.

So… how will you choose to react to your next setback?

Related: You’re Doing Great. So You Should Give Thanks and Chill the Eff Out, Inch by Inch: How Small Steps Lead to Big Success


  1. I need to start employing this tactic for professional setbacks instead of slipping into a funk. I TRY to stay positive, really, and remember that the universe has a bigger plan which might not include the WHATEVER THING DIDN’T JUST HAPPEN FOR ME – but I don’t know if it’s ever possible to shake off the pangs of rejection entirely.

    • I must admit, it’s hard to keep gratitude at the forefront of my mind when things are going shitty. But when I’m mindful about it, it really helps.

  2. Steph, I *know* it doesn’t help to hear that someone else went through infertility & everything turned out ok, but: It took us 17 months of trying, a handful of failed IUIs, and surgery for endometriosis, but you’ve met H so you know how that story ends. As you said, you have no way of knowing how that baby will come to you, but you will be a parent.

    Meanwhile, though, I’m in awe of your attitude, both towards infertility and your career. Like Casey, I have a tendency to fall into a funk. I’m in one right now, in fact. Distraction is usually what works for me–if I can get myself to just MOVE and start something new, I’ll often get so involved that I forget about whatever had disappointed me. But I LOVE the exercise you do! Off to try it myself right now…

    • Oh Debbie, it totally DOES help! Thank you! I really tried hard not to get too hopeful about our first round of IUI because I knew — logically — it could take a few tries. It’s so hard not to get disappointed, though!

  3. Steph, I love this part:

    “I’m a firm believer in the idea that victims are made not by their circumstances, but by their reactions to their circumstances. In short, if you can see the silver lining in a shitty storm cloud, you will bounce back.”

    So sorry to hear that the first round of artificial insemination didn’t take but it sounds like you’re moving forward. Onward!

    • I have had many people in my life who consistently react negatively to their circumstances, and I can see that attitude holding them back. It’s crystal clear. Sometimes I think of that when I see myself falling into the same trap.

  4. Steph, I’m sorry to read that about both. But in knowing you, and for all the years I’ve known you, it will happen for you. This book proposal, that you’ve worked so darn hard on? Even the best writers who’ve gotten agents have had publishing houses pass. You WILL find the right fit, and I have confidence that you it will happen.

    Regarding the personal stuff? So sorry to hear about the first round of artificial insemination. You can get through this, to the next step forward, whatever that might be.

  5. I admire your strength so much!

  6. Wow I’m so sorry about all the crap you are going through! You are not interested in self-publishing? Keep at it! I have a post about my own miscarriages on my blog, second one down. Keep your chin up!

    • I’m definitely open to self-publishing, and have self-published smaller info-products. I’ve also collaborated on ebooks that my clients have self-published. I’m just interested in seeing where I can go with this one, and I have a feeling that the publishing pros can only help make my book better than it is.

      And thank you for sharing your own blog! I went over there and read about your miscarriages and I so appreciate you sharing your story. When you’re going through fertility issues, it helps a lot to read about the experiences others have had.

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