How to Bounce Back from Career Knockbacks


How to Bounce Back from Career Knockbacks

career knockback


The fashion industry is notoriously cutthroat. As they say on Project Runway ‘One minute you’re in, the next you’re out. Take the once lauded industry darling – Hedi Slimane – who, as Creative Director of Dior Homme, inspired the late Karl Lagerfeld to slim down several sizes in order to fit into his collections. Fast-forward to September 2018, and Paris Fashion Week where his much-awaited debut for Celine was, to put it politely, slated. So, how do you bounce back after a week of unending critique? Well, if you’re Hedi you shake it off, stick to your vision and come back with a collection that sets the trend for the coming Fall ’19 season – that’s the New Bourgeois – in case you were wondering.

With this and your own career in mind, how do you learn to build resilience along your journey, so you can come back fighting after any setback, rejection, or bad review?  Take it from someone who has had to pivot her career 3 times, resiliency is key and it’s the only thing – alongside your talent – that will set you up for your future. So how can you learn how to harness it?  I aim to outline the 3 key ways in which you can anticipate, challenge, and move through the main obstacles that you may face in your career.



ENTRY LEVEL – Going from fashion graduate to entry-level employee will be a time when you will probably work the hardest for the least recognition.  Even after you have been sent out for the boss’ millionth Starbucks and you find yourself questioning your own sanity. Try to remember that in doing these small tasks with a smile and willing attitude, you are making yourself indispensable to the team. This is your growth phase where you should be constantly listening and learning.

Steaming gowns for a photo-shoot? Pay attention to how the stylist is putting together their looks.  Fact checking for an Editor? Read and re-read her copy to absorb her tone and how she connects with her readers. Use every task that you are set, however mundane, as an opportunity to grow your skills base, to help you work towards your goals.

Always keep the bigger picture of where you want to be in the future, front and centre, so on the day you’re running all over London delivering 100 opening night invitations for the V&A, you’ll remember that one day it may be you writing the guest list.


SENIOR LEVEL – After a few years paying your dues, you should be working your way up to mid-level. Here, you can be more autonomous over your work and manage your own area. Just, keep in mind though, that as you climb the ladder your work will be challenged more and praised less.  When you do a good job, it’s because that’s what you are being paid to do and unfortunately it’s not your manager’s responsibility to pat you on the head and say well done after every task. Instead, keep a diary and list every project you managed, contribution you made and presentation you lead, that made a difference, because on those crappy days when you’re suffering from Imposter Syndrome you need to remind yourself that YOU got your ass here and you deserve a seat at the table.


MANAGEMENT LEVEL – Congratulations you’ve made it to the corner office in the sky, but be warned it can be lonely at the top. Should you choose to pursue a management position you have to be prepared for the challenge of managing a team of people with different, sometimes clashing, personalities. As well as the reality that your role may mean less creativity?  But on the flip side, you will have the chance to be a changemaker and really shape your career. At this level, your rainy days will seem like Category 4 hurricanes, but when it hits the fan remember, you hired a team for a reason, lean on them and give them a chance to shine, which in turn will reflect well on you. Also, don’t forget to nurture those who are coming up under you through mentoring. Though it may be hard to find the time, you shouldn’t underestimate the impact a 30-minute session over coffee will have on your self-worth and their career trajectory.



Are you working on a side hustle whilst you’re waiting for that dream job offer to come along? If you are, have you thought about whether you will give it up when you land that role? If you’re in the ‘Hell No’ camp, you need to check whether what you’re doing as a passion project will conflict with your new position (read your contract thoroughly before signing) or will you end up burning the candle at both ends by doing your 9-to-5 followed by a 7-1am shift?  Alternatively, if you’re thinking ‘Yes, gimme that steady paycheck’ you need to consider if you’ll be giving up a key part of what brings you joy. You don’t have to have a specific side-hustle, but you should be constantly looking for ways to add to your life outside of work because having outside interests or legitimate side businesses will mean that you won’t look to your day job to provide 100% of your validation.


You should also take note that making tough decisions, especially when you’re a practicing polymath, can come at any stage of your career.  Take the recent case of footwear designer Paul Andrew, who was offered the role of Creative Director at Italian brand Salvatore Ferragamo. In accepting the position he made the decision to put his namesake shoe line on hold. For a young designer whose brand was only 6 years old, this must have felt like facing the biggest break of his career coupled with the biggest personal setback for his label. Taking the role was ultimately the right thing for his career path at the time, but I have no doubt he did so confident in the knowledge that he had built up a strong business/side hustle, that he knows that he can return too if and when he decides to pivot his career again.



We all know that gif of Homer Simpson disappearing into the bushes – if you don’t, go Google it now. For everyone that does, it’s the perfect metaphor for how a large number of us feel during challenging times at work. It’s been well documented that anxiety and stress levels are at an all-time high, and as you progress in your career  – whether you’re struggling to prove yourself to your manager, or contemplating whether to accept another unpaid internship – it doesn’t get any easier.


It’s important that throughout your working life you re-charge and build resilience by focusing on you once-in-a-while, especially given the number of high-profile cases around those struggling with mental health that have made the headlines recently. Take it from someone who was scarily close to suffering a panic attack at work recently. It was a serious wake-up call that made me realise that I was taking on way too much, by trying to juggle a full-time job with 2 side-hustles.  Something had to give and it wasn’t going to be my mental health. So I decided to apply the following steps to help me come through the other side:

  1. First, I breathed and physically took myself away from my desk and went outside.  As I found a change of environment helped calm me.
  2. I wrote a list of the presentation I had to put together, the shop report, the catwalk edit, the 2 articles, and the 3 mentees I had planned to meet with, all in the space of 5 days. Then I prioritised my list and spoke with my manager, to see what could be moved to the following week, so I could make a plan that helped take my anxiety down several notches.
  3. I grew some balls and asked for help from my colleagues. The saying ‘There’s no I in Team’ was surprisingly fitting in this situation.  Dividing up my work didn’t mean I couldn’t handle it, it meant I was confident enough to delegate to help me focus.
  4. In relation to my mentees and side hustles, I reached out to them and just stopped everything for a week, and guess what? My mentees were happy to reschedule and my content was still gaining traction after that week of silence, go figure!
  5. At the end of the day, I journaled, externalising all the feelings of “You’re s**t at your jobs, and you’ll never measure up”. Seeing it in black-and-white helped me realise how hard I am on myself and forced me to change the narrative of negative thoughts by also writing down all I’ve achieved so far, and how I worked through that stressful situation, so I can use it for the next time I need it.

If you take anything away from the idea of taking a time out, it’s that you can retreat to your comfort zone when you need a break, it doesn’t stop you being the amazing person that you are and on the plus side it will have people wondering where you are and what your working on, because hey, if it can work for Beyoncé.…..

My hope is that by applying these tips to every step of your career journey, you will bounce back from any challenging situation, whilst maintaining your sense of self-worth. Although if you need a bit more encouragement, I’ll leave you with these wise words from the host of @theheygirlpodcast  


Alexandra Elle:

“Before you settle, remember your worth. Before you stay longer than you should, look at what you can gain by walking away. Before you decide you’re not deserving of more, remember that you are.”


Words by Angela Baidoo


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