Why injuries or setbacks can be good for our careers

It has become a recent phenomenon in tennis. A player sustains an injury, takes time away from the sport, and achieves great success when they return. Rafael Nadal, Juan Martin DelPotro, and even the great Roger Federer have endured injuries that caused them to sit out for extended periods of time. However, this was prominently showcased in the U.S Open women’s tennis championship match that featured Madison Keys and Sloane Stephens.

Both players suffered career altering injuries that forced them to take significant time away from the game. Last year, U.S Open champion Sloane Stephens was in a wheelchair, unable to bear weight on her foot after surgery. She bluntly stated she could not walk for an extended period of time.

Her fellow compatriot and tennis friend, Madison Keys described her wrist injury struggles:

“The way it ended up healing, the tube and the nerve adhered to each other and the tube then adhered to the scar. One branch of the nerve then grew into my joint, so when I would stretch to hit a shot my arm would go numb.”

In a beautiful display of resilience, both players credited their injuries for aspects of their recent success on the tennis court. Upon her return to tennis, Stephens stated, “I obviously wasn’t happy to get injured. That’s not anything that I ever wanted; but it was a good lesson for me. It was a good time to be able to take a break, get my health in order and then reevaluate my whole entire situation—come back a better player and better person.”

Similarly, in her first match back after injury, Keys mentioned the following, “If anything, it made me play my game better. Sometimes we get really caught up in the winning and the losing and rankings and all of that. And at the end of the day, we get to play a sport that we love for our jobs, and just this whole time has made me realize how truly blessed I am to be able to do that.”

In our careers, ‘injuries’ or setbacks might look like not getting that dream job, not getting the promotion, being laid off, getting fired, feeling that you are in the wrong career, or even thinking you made the wrong career move.

These “injuries” can also serve as a springboard for success. How?

It Makes You Want It More

Working a traditional 9 to 5 job has become almost routine in our lifestyles. Similarly, for athletes, playing a sport is their job and becomes monotonous. However, during an extended break or the denial of an opportunity to participate in that activity, job, or lifestyle, you begin to assess if it’s truly your passion.

In my personal career journey, I remember knowing I was passionate about Human Resources two years after I graduated with my Bachelors in HR. After accepting an entry-level job, I realized my corporate climb was not going as quickly as I anticipated. Specifically, I was being denied promotional opportunities and getting rejected for jobs for which I thought I was well-qualified. In one of the toughest career decisions I made, I resigned from my first HR job out of college.

During this break, I was disappointed in myself for making what I thought was a stupid decision. However, during this time away, I began studying for the PHR exam. My preparation was purely grit and will, as I did not enroll in a prep course. The only preparation was one book and flash cards. I was so motivated to prove that I am a subject matter expert in my field. I wanted it badly. In December 2008, I passed my PHR exam. I was 25 years old. Without this time away, I would have never been so passionate about studying so hard for the rigorous exam. This turning point in my career served as the catalyst for many future opportunities.

You Go Back to the Fundamentals

Injuries make you go back to the fundamentals. After sustaining an injury, you usually must re-learn functions you originally would have done without even thinking.

Similarly, in my Human Resources experience, a setback can occur when an individual was a finalist for a role and did not receive the position. Sometimes, this news can make the candidate feel hurt or emotionally injured.

However, the best applicants use it as an opportunity to go back to the fundamentals. This usually means calling the recruiter to get feedback. The individual may have to re-learn how to interview or even re-learn how to structure their resume. Sometimes, re-learning these ‘fundamentals’ could even yield stronger preparedness for future roles and future interviews. Personally, I have advised people, who have been out of the job market a long time, it might take ‘getting hurt’ at a few interviews before they are ready to have an outstanding job interview.

Realizing the Need for a Team

Through any injury, a support team is needed for encouragement and motivation throughout the rehab process. You literally need someone to help you along the way.

In our careers, we are often working solo to ascend to new heights through performance. This is often a solo act. However, when we endure setbacks, it forces us to attain a team. If we lose a job, we will need the support of a spouse or family. If we are experiencing a rough time with a boss, we lean on a support team for guidance on how to navigate.

U.S Open champion Sloane Stephens proudly stated her mother was there for her throughout her injuries and triumphs. Notably, she mentioned that, when she was 11 years old, a coach at a tennis academy told her mother “she would probably be a Division 2 tennis player if she was lucky.” However, her mother never lost belief.

We all need members of our team that will never lose belief in us. The team you assemble will be with you in your victories, as well.

Throughout our careers, we will encounter injury. Some injuries might be more severe than others. However, we can use those injuries to realize dreams we never imagined. It is all in how we handle our setbacks. Take Sloane Stephens, for example, who went from the 957th ranked player in the world to within the top 40. It’s possible for all of us, too.

Posted by Daniel Nicolas

Daniel is an HR knowledge seeker with a passion for community. I've had a pretty cool journey. Proud Seminole, Member of Alpha Phi Alpha, Tennis Player, Haitian-American and soon-to-be husband.

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