What Do YOU Do When the Bottom Drops Out?

Isn't it cool when something you really need falls into your lap? That's what happened to me today when I came across a new study about setbacks and whether you bounce back, or give up.

I was recently interviewed for a job, met all the executives and was pretty much hired on the spot, except for some paperwork that had to be drawn up. I went home, told my husband, who was overjoyed (now maybe he'd get some help paying bills!), and the week ahead looked bright and exciting.

Good thing we didn't celebrate.

I didn't get the job.

I don't know where it went wrong but when the three or four emails a day dwindled down to one, then none, I began to get it.

I'm pretty good at bouncing back from disappointment and bad news, but this one hit hard. Maybe because I really believed we'd hit it off – there seemed to be such chemistry. We clicked. I was asked how soon I could start, and we talked money. Emails were exchanged. A phone call. Then, nothing.

The study says it may come down to how much control we feel we have over what happens to us, according to newswise.com.

Obviously, I had no control over the change in decision, and spent a lot of time worrying why I hadn't measured up. But my husband, who usually isn't good at this sort of thing, really came through and said it most likely was not about me, or a limitation, but about the qualifications of another candidate – maybe a niece or nephew of the CEO, or someone who had more connections, or knew more about the industry than I did. Maybe one of the people I gave as a reference slipped up.

That helped, a little.

The study also finds that when these setbacks occur, the level of control we perceive may even determine which of two distinct parts of the brain will handle the crisis. 

“Think of the student who failed an exam,” says Jamil Bhanji, a postdoctoral fellow at Rutgers and one of the study’s co-authors. “They might feel they wouldn’t have failed if they had studied harder, studied differently – something under their control.” That student, Bhanji says, resolves to try new study habits and work hard toward acing the next exam.

A different student might have failed the same test, but believes it happened because the questions were unfair or the professor was mean, things that he could not control. The negative emotions produced by this uncontrollable setback may cause the student to drop the course.

Mauricio Delgado, an associate professor of psychology and the study’s other co-author, says people whose jobs include delivering bad news should pay attention to these results, because their actions might influence how the news is received.

“You may deliver the news to the student – no sugar coating, here’s your setback,” says Delgado at newswise.com. “But then you make an offer – ‘would you like to review those study habits with me? I’d be happy to do it.’ This puts the student in a situation where they may experience control and be more likely to improve the next time.”

Of course, I'm not going to have this, and I'm still smarting, I must admit. It's been a long road, trying to find a job. I went three years with no interviews, then had two in two weeks. I really thought this was a done deal.

I'll never know why this didn't work out. And eventually I will pick myself up and start looking again. (I was just contacted about another job.)

But I wanted this one. (The most amazing part was, they came to me, not the other way around, and said I was exactly what they were looking for. Famous last words.)

One thing I've learned, though – life goes on. I kept going as a child and young adult through much distress and anger, I persisted when I had trouble staying pregnant, and I marched through my cancer – surgery, radiation, hormone treatments – like a champ.

It was a pretty bitter pill to swallow this week, but next week looks different and I keep telling myself, maybe it just wasn't the right job and that's why it didn't work out.

The right job will come, I tell myself, in time. You just have to wait. But this time I think it's going to take a little bit longer before I really believe it.

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