No one enjoys that feeling of failure, but it can happen to anyone. Despite your best attempts to work towards career and life goals, unexpected challenges can throw you way off course. For example, I failed to get any graduate jobs after working solidly towards it in seven years of university and part-time work as a paralegal. I wasn't to know that the 2008 global financial crisis would hit just as I graduated. As a result, most businesses put a freeze on hiring and training graduates. Training was an expense they didn’t want to incur in the depressed economic environment. While it was crushing at the time as a job seeker, I survived and learned how to adjust my sails and my expectations.

That feeling of 'failure' is unexpected and often has aspects you can’t control. But it also has things you can control, like your mindset, how you respond to the challenges thrown at you, and what learnings you take away from significant setbacks.

To overcome my jobless situation as a graduate, I had to change my expectations and create my own opportunities. Instead of looking for jobs that didn’t exist or applying for the few jobs that every other graduate was applying for, I looked for good alternatives. 

I was successful in securing a 12-month role at Cadbury as a paralegal and administrative assistant. In that role I learned what an in-house legal team does and how it engages with different business areas. In processing invoices for the legal team, I got to know the external lawyers that supported Cadbury. One of them specialised in the area I wanted to work in – intellectual property. I made a pitch to them: I would complete and pay for my own legal traineeship with an external institution if the firm agreed to hire me as a paralegal, with the opportunity to keep me as a lawyer after completing my traineeship. The firm agreed and hired me after my Cadbury contract ended. I had rewarding work at that firm for several years as a junior lawyer.

Opportunities can be self-created if you make the outcome a win-win for all involved. Sometimes, not getting what you expect is more valuable than getting exactly what you expected. It forces you to think differently about how to achieve your goals. Dealing with that very personal sense of failure is never comfortable. But overcoming these professional setbacks is important to help build your resilience, and to deal with all kinds of unexpected events in life. If you can get more comfortable dealing with life's setbacks, those unexpected events should take less of a toll. You might even see it as a great opportunity to change course and try something different!

Proximity is planning a CPD program for early careers lawyers in the 2019/20 financial year. We will publish details shortly, so follow us on social media and stay tuned.

Some helpful tips

  • Self-reflect when things go wrong
  • Understand what caused or contributed to your setback
  • In responding to failure, prioritise the things you can control over things, or people, you can merely influence
  • Don't get distracted by things you can't control
  • Be prepared to change your approach and expectations – change may be needed to find the route to success.
  • Success comes incrementally. Be patient with yourself. Stay calm.