Sources for stories: Recovering from a career mistake/setback

photo-95I’m working on a Fast Company piece on how to recover from a career mistake. I’d love to include some stories from people on mistakes they’ve made that they’ve managed to bounce back from.

A small number of you may have read my first solo book, Grindhopping (I’m guessing most of you have not). It was about hopping out of the grind to (per the subtitle) “Build a rewarding career without paying your dues.” It was about the rise in self-employment among young people, and how to navigate the new world of work.

I think it was a great book and prescient too, but I didn’t know how much or what I needed to do to promote it. I made the rookie mistake of assuming that my publisher would do a lot of that. Unfortunately, I also went through three editors, and so it was really no one’s project by the time it came out. The sales showed it — there weren’t many sales. And, indeed, when I proposed a follow-on book, the publisher turned it down because sales were so bad. I got news that they weren’t picking up the option while I was in the delivery room having my first kid (lesson: don’t check email while in labor).

The good news is that all that led me to figure out a new topic to write about (time), to find a new publisher (Penguin/Portfolio) and to figure out how to build a better platform. It’s been a long process, but I definitely don’t take any book sale for granted.

What have you bounced back from?



5 Responses to Sources for stories: Recovering from a career mistake/setback


  1. TG says:

    I read Grindhopping a few years ago and it made me look up your blog. I appreciated its realism about money- that you had to have enough money for today in order to do what you want tomorrow, and not everyone will be successful (especially financially successful) in her/his career.

    I suppose I fit your target audience more then than I do now. Your current book sales probably reflect in part that you are writing for the minority of the population that buys books- grind hoppers are poor and likely checked your book out from the library.

  2. JS says:

    I have read several of your books since 168 Hours came out. Grindhopping is on my list. I am currently in a career/life transition and 168 Hours has been a great inspiration for ideas and creative thinking. The list of 100 Dreams most remarkably. My teenage son and I are working on our lists together. After a divorce, the surprise loss of a job, financial disaster and being a single dad of 4 children. I am still trying to recover my working life. I relocated to Brooklyn this summer, hopefully it will bear fruit. The process has been difficult but enlightening.

  3. Shelly says:

    I think my biggest mistake in my current career is not putting in enough capital investment time into developing the deeper aspects of my career. I was hoping to get away from office politics that I had experienced in the corporate world – not realizing that at an educational institution the politics are just as bad. To get anything done at an administrative level (ie trying to get a new program approved) has been a huge uphill battle. This is where I needed to have better contact with administration which comes from the committees, etc.

  4. Cloud says:

    At my first job post-PhD, I had a lot of trouble with a coworker. He was a peer, and we were supposed to work together on a project, but he basically ignored my opinions. We’d meet and discuss how we would approach something, he’d say something that implied we’d reached agreement to do X, and then he’d go do the opposite of X. I didn’t handle that well at all. I complained to our mutual boss, but just complained- I didn’t come in with any proposed solutions. Unfortunately for me, the solution my boss came up with was to have us work on separate projects (not bad) and to tell me that I couldn’t advance at that company until I could show that I could “build consensus” (the end of my prospects for advancement since the problem was that it was impossible for me to build consensus with that coworker).The lesson I learned was that being in the right in a conflict with a coworker isn’t enough in business. If you want to advance, you have to handle that conflict carefully. I should have come to my boss with the issue and one or two potential solutions. That would have accomplished my goal of making sure my boss knew what was going on without undermining my leadership potential at that company. I did bounce back and move up the ladder into management- but not at that company.

  5. Karen says:

    My response is quite similar to Cloud’s. I also think my biggest career mistake has been complaining to a boss about a problem without offering any solutions. Even now, I find this difficult, because I can’t always think of a solution to offer. Then, a good thing to do seems to be to come to your boss and ask if you can work together to brainstorm some solutions. I’ve been pleasantly surprised how willing bosses are to help if you demonstrate good faith and a willingness to work with them towards a solution. Whereas if you come in with just a complaint that you expect them to solve, you may end up looking like part of the problem, and find yourself in a confrontational situation that you did not intend.