Susan Smith Blakely

How Do You Respond to Career Setbacks?

This is the real world.  Get ready for career setbacks.  From discovering that a job is not what you expected and will not yield the experience you need, to failing the bar exam, to being fired from a job --- career setbacks are inherent to every job situation, and the law is no exception.  You can expect career setbacks in this profession, and you need to be ready to deal with them.

There is a book that you need to read to help you prepare for the inevitable.  That book, The Anxious Lawyer:  An 8-Week Guide to a Happier, Saner Law Practice Using Meditation, will be published soon by the American Bar Association.  Watch for it.

In the book, author Jeena Cho outlines the important considerations for dealing with career setbacks, disappointments and failures, and it looks like she does a pretty credible job.  According to a pre-publication article , Ms. Cho offers personal examples and details common sense and research-based methods of dealing with the emotions that accompany disappointments in the workplace.  She emphasizes the need for emotional intelligence and resiliency in dealing with the harsh truth that it simply is "not possible to never fail as a lawyer."  I particularly like her take on "mastery."  When we put all of our eggs in one basket, disappointment can knock us out of the game.  When we master other skills as well and spread our talent around a bit, we are much less likely to define ourselves by failures in one arena.

I also am interested in reading what Ms. Cho has to say about "being gentle with yourself."  Reactions to disappointment, like identifying yourself as incompetent, unworthy and stupid, will not move you forward in your career.  Ms. Cho emphasizes that emotions and negative thoughts must be separated from truth in dealing with disappointments, and the book promises to enlighten on "self-care" as a way to combat the explosion of negative thoughts that can accompany career disappointments.  So often we forget that self-care may be the most important care.  We cannot be good for others if we are not good to ourselves.  Remember the airline oxygen mask rule:  First yours and then your loved ones.

Often self-confidence hangs in the balance when we face disappointments of a considerable magnitude, and this is one area that needs particular attention.  Reading this book just may put you on the road to recovery from disappointments and preserve the self-confidence that we all know is so important to career success and satisfaction.

The book also promises to deal with some of the platitudes you might consider to be unworthy of your consideration.  Even though you may think you are beyond looking at failure as an important learning experience, you may be surprised.  Dealing with career disappointments and setbacks is all one big ball of wax with many related and interlocking parts, and it is worth your while to view the problem from a variety of perspectives.

Keep your eye out for the book.  I hope it does not disappoint.

You can access information about the author and her work at and on Twitter at @jeena_cho.


Susan Smith Blakely is the Founder of LegalPerspectives LLC and an award-winning, nationally-recognized author, speaker and consultant on issues related to young women lawyers, young women law students and young women interested in careers in the law.  She is author of Best Friends at the Bar:  What Women Need to Know about a Career in the Law (Wolters Kluwer/Aspen Publishers 2009), and Best Friends at the Bar:  The New Balance for Today's Woman Lawyer (Wolters Kluwer Law & Business 2012), which addresses the work-life struggle for women lawyers and includes twelve profiles of women who have successfully transitioned from one practice setting to another.  Her new book, Best Friends at the Bar:  Top-Down Leadership for Women Lawyers, focused on the responsibilities of law firm leaders and was released by Wolters Kluwer Law & Business in July 2015.

Ms. Blakely frequently speaks at colleges and universities, law schools, law firms and law organizations, and she has been featured in media including the LA Daily Journal, National Jurist, Washington Examiner Newspaper, Forbes Woman, DC Spotlight, Daily Muse and Huffington Post Business.  Ms. Blakely also is a frequent guest speaker and panelist at conferences on women's issues and the law profession, and she has been a featured speaker at the US Department of Justice, Civil Division.  She is the recipient of the Ms. JD 2015 "Sharing Her Passion Award" for her work on behalf of women in the law.

Ms. Blakely graduated from the University of Wisconsin with distinction and from Georgetown University Law Center where she was a teaching fellow. She is a member of the CoachSource global network of leadership coaches and a career coach for the Indiana University Marshall Goldsmith Leadership Development and Executive Coaching Academy.   For more information, please visit 

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