What to do when things don’t go to plan

Erin Delaney
Team GradAustralia
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Sometimes life just gets in the way of all your best plans.

You’ve studied, saved, worked, trained, schemed, applied, tried, sweated, researched, fought, found or fixed.

Whatever the situation, sometimes the chips just fall the wrong way and you don’t win or succeed, or even come close. You might not get a graduate position at your dream company, or maybe you did and were let go. Maybe you didn’t get the exam marks you wanted, or you got your interview times muddled up and didn’t get a second chance to come in and impress.

It happens to the best of us.

In fact, failure can be a defining moment in your career, and in your life. It can make you a more valuable employee than someone that hasn’t ever failed, and it can teach you a lot about yourself that you didn’t know.

So, when things don’t go the way you planned, what do you do?

Take a breather

The first step is to pause, and remember that nothing is life or death. Get a clear head by taking some deep breaths, go for a walk around the block and count to 10. This is not the time for a strong reaction or revenge, or anything other than getting yourself back to a good place mentally so you can start thinking of a response.

Understand whether you’re reacting or responding

Reacting has a very important place in human nature. When we touch a hot stove, we move our hands immediately. That’s an example of a good reaction — quick, without thought, getting yourself out of harm’s way.

Responding is different. A response requires thought, planning and an idea of what you want to achieve. When things go wrong, you want to respond. [A reaction could be anything from putting someone on blast over an all-company email to dropping out of uni over one bad mark.] You never want to react, if you can help it — bad things happen when good people react.

Take time to understand

It’s important to understand how things went wrong so you can formulate a good response. That doesn’t mean blaming yourself or anyone else, but deconstructing the series of events that led to the problem is a good way to understand how to prevent that particular situation arising again — or helping yourself to do better next time.

Figure out the best response

If you didn’t do so well on an important exam, there might be exemptions or special circumstances you can apply for, or you’ll know to try and prepare a bit more thoroughly for the next one. If you missed out on a job, ask for feedback so you can learn what gaps you need to fill in the next one. There’s always a solution for the problem you’ve faced, and once you find it you add to your toolkit so that when you face a similar challenge down the line you’re better prepared and can move swiftly into action.

There’s always a way to overcome adversity, and remembering that bad things happen to good people all the time is a really important — and sometimes underappreciated — bit of advice. You can’t control life, but you can control your response to it and that will often make all the difference to how bad a situation becomes. And if you learn to master your own feelings and thoughts, you will never feel out of control again — no matter what the circumstances.