Are You Prepared to Face a Career Setback?

You often can’t control whether a career setback will happen to you, but you can control how you respond. Here’s how to put together a fallback plan so you’ll be ready if things unexpectedly go sideways.

First, identify the worst-case scenario. This exercise shouldn’t stress you out. Think of it as a one-time thought experiment that allows you to think calmly about what could go wrong—and how you might handle the challenge if it does.

Then, write down the obstacles that immediately spring to mind when you consider the worst-case scenario. For example, if you’re creating a fallback plan for a rescinded job offer, the obstacles might be the impact on your self-esteem, the discomfort of explaining the situation to others, or the fear of restarting your job search.

After that, clarify your non-negotiables—for example, your desired location, a minimum salary threshold, or the industry you work in. These are the fundamentals that inform your decision-making in good times and bad.

Then, consider the support you may need. Create a list of key contacts and potential references in your network that you could reach out to in the event of a career setback.

Finally, file your plan away—and take care of yourself. Don’t dwell on the possibility of a setback. You have a plan. Now do your best to live in the present.