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How to handle a career kick in the butt

Ultimately, if you let it, a humiliating career butt-kick can be the entry point for a richer, fuller, and more complete understanding of yourself.

4 min read


Adversity Legg

Think back to the last time you learned a lesson the hard way at work. How did you react? Did you make changes to become better, stronger, and more professional? Or did you entrench yourself in the conviction of your rightness?

What follows are some tips from my new book, “A Leadership Kick in the Ass,” to help you benefit from whatever career kicks to the keister you may next endure:

  • Focus on the long game. A humiliating event at work is just a momentary speed bump on your longer career. The spike in pain will eventually yield to worthwhile lessons and changes. Focus on where you ultimately want your career to end up, not the detour it may have taken.
  • Learn from your feelings. Pay close attention to the feelings that come up for you after you mess up. Identify what you’re feeling, precisely. Do you feel embarrassed, fearful, resentful, or something else? Then ask yourself, “What information is this feeling trying to give me?” and “What is the lesson this feeling is trying to give me?”
  • Remember, discomfort=growth. Comfort may be comfortable, but it’s also stagnant. You don’t grow in a zone of comfort. You grow, progress, and evolve in a zone of discomfort. The more uncomfortable the kick feels, the more growth can result.
  • Broaden your view of courage. Being vulnerable, open, and receptive to change is a form of courage. Hard- charging types wrongly see courage as being fearless. Nothing could be further from the truth. Courage is fearful. The simplest definition of courage is “acting despite being afraid.” Courage requires fear. As long as you keep moving forward, it’s when there’s a knot in your stomach, a lump in your throat, and sweat on your palms that your courage is doing its job.
  • Don’t be oblivious to yourself. Remaining loyal to one’s ignorance is always costly. Sure, self-exploration and discovery is painful, but what is more painful in the long run is being a stunted human being, incapable of acknowledging, assimilating, or shoring up your shortcomings. So always strive to become more self-aware.
  • Be your own project. Lots of people lead projects better than they lead themselves. Think about what it takes to lead a great project. You start by identifying your desired outcomes, you put together a timeline and pinpoint critical milestones, you marshal the resources the project will need to be successful, and you identify metrics to track progress. Guess what? You can manage your butt-kick recovery the exact same way.
  • Stay present. Rather than try to avoid all that surfaces for you during and immediately after the humiliating event, fully immerse yourself in the experience. What feelings come up for you? What fears are at work? How might your feelings and fears serve you once the entire experience plays out? What are you learning and how can you put those lessons to good use?

As much as this self-discovery can be painful, it is also fantastically rewarding. The journey to the center of one’s self is the most important voyage you’ll ever take. It’s how you become a whole person, truly knowing the full dimensions of your talents, idiosyncrasies, and deepest desires.

Ultimately, if you let it, a humiliating career butt-kick can be the entry point for a richer, fuller, and more complete understanding of yourself, as a leader and as a human being. Armed with that knowledge, you’ll be better able to use your strengths — and actively mitigate the shadows your strengths sometimes cause — so they better serve you and others.

Abraham Maslow sums it well: “What is necessary to change a person is to change his awareness of himself.”


Bill Treasurer is the founder of Giant Leap Consulting, a courage-building consulting firm. Bill’s newest book, “A Leadership Kick in the Ass,” is now available for pre-order on For over two decades, Bill has worked with emerging and experienced leaders to strengthen their leadership impact. Treasurer’s clients include NASA, Lenovo, Saks Fifth Avenue, Walsh Construction, Hugo Boss, the National Science Foundation, and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Learn more at

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