Sometimes, you have a bad day at the office. Sometimes you have a very bad day at the office. And then you have Terri Lynn Land, who, on Election Day, had an extremely terrible, horrible, no-good unbelievably very bad day running for office.
Land was the Republican candidate for an open Senate seat, and ran a campaign that one columnist called "a national embarrassment." Her first press event was most commonly described using the phrase "deer in the headlights." When Land created a big TV spot to make people sit up and notice, they did. Unfortunately, according to a leading Republican pollster, what they noticed was "this is the worst ad of the political process."
Finally, in the last two weeks of campaigning, Republicans yanked $850,000 of TV ads from Land, who lost by a 34 percent margin.
To which I say: Big honkin' deal. Even if the Land campaign was the political equivalent of New Coke, the Yugo and "Gigli" rolled into one, it proves that there are only two kinds of people in this world: Those who've already nosedived into a spectacular, eye-rolling, potentially career-killing belly flop — and those who will.
Step one: From bad to sad
What should Land, or any of us do, after we publicly crash and burn? First, hold off on updating your resume and let the flames die down, says Prudence Cole, a Grosse Pointe executive career coach who runs BeingAtWork.com.
"The best approach is to reflect on what the teachings are from the experience you've just had, and then try to figure out, what am I going to do next," Cole says.
The first step is to deal with your anger, hurt and humiliation, not unlike the seven stages of grief. "A lot of executives try to run to a new job right away," Cole says. "But if this is a major turning point in your life, you need to work through your emotions."
While the temptation may be to get back up on the horse that just so publicly bucked you off, it's healthier to consider whether you made a big mistake in a career that suits you, or whether it's time to make a change.
"These career crises are important opportunities and turning points where you're getting a wake-up call about whether you're supposed to be doing something different," Cole says. "Maybe not, but you need to think about that before you jump in the saddle again."
A giant mis-step forward
If the first step is feeling bad about doing bad, another step is to revisit your successes, and remind yourself that you can — and have — done good work in the past. Then figure out what went wrong. If you were pursuing something you believe you should do, did you go about it badly and need to improve your execution, or did you do it with the wrong people in the wrong place, and need to find a corporate culture where you can succeed? A more difficult question, and one that you'll want to work through with a career coach, is whether you did a bad job at something you secretly don't want to be doing.
The final step is becoming comfortable acknowledging what went wrong and focusing on where you're headed now.
"Get to a point where you can actually talk about it," Cole says. "You don't have to hide it, since everybody knows about it."
In that light, a big, astonishing career fiasco can free you for your next success. If you get better at the job, people are impressed. If you crush it at a new company, people see that the problem wasn't you. And if you do something entirely different, well who can blame you?
The worst that can happen, it turns out, usually isn't.
Brian O'Connor is author of the award-winning book, "The $1,000 Challenge: How One Family Slashed
Its Budget Without Moving Under a Bridge or Living on Government Cheese."