Grieving the Promotion I Didn't Get
I’ll start with candor: I got passed over for a promotion.
I didn’t get screwed out of a promotion. There weren’t management shifts or budget cuts. There wasn’t some new hire who came in and swooped up what I deserved. The truth is this: I just wasn’t ready.
But goddamn it, I thought I was. On paper I hit all the requirements: tenure, responsibility, management experience. If you’d have asked me a few months ago, I’d have told you I was a shoe-in for it. But the closer I got to my review, the more nauseated I became. Something wasn’t sitting right. I told myself I was just nervous or excited (or that maybe should have less dairy). Fast-forward to the moment during my review when my manager started talking about how excited she was to see me continue to grow in my current role over the next year. Ooph.
I should have listened to my gut. (But at least this way I could wash it down with some ice cream.)
Over the weeks that followed my review, I became consumed by the news. My disbelief turned to anger, followed by bargaining and overthinking, and eventually a spat of depression. The loss of a job can feel like the loss of your identity. (Even, apparently, if you never had the job to begin with.)
As is the case with any loss, there’s a process for moving forward. It takes time; there are stages to moving on. You’re probably already familiar with the Kubler-Ross method: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and, eventually, acceptance.
I had myself so convinced I was ready for a promotion that I couldn’t even hear my manager when she explained I wouldn’t be receiving one. I only heard the feedback I wanted to hear—the glowing peer reviews and the exciting thoughts about what was coming my way next. I came back to my desk and told my officemates my review went wonderfully. It took hours (and, admittedly, a couple glasses of wine), before I finally started to understand—and days before I really came out of a cloud of denial. To my surprise, I wasn’t greeted by sadness or depression. No. I was angry.
At first it came in the form of white-hot tears and fits of quiet rage. I was angry. I was exhausted, working 10-hour days and they had the audacity to tell me it wasn’t enough? What was the point? Then, the anger spread. I wasn’t just angry with my employer, I was angry with everything. I was angry with the people at my office who did get promoted (including my best friend who rightfully earned her title change). I was angry with my boyfriend, despite the fact that he was nothing but supportive. And then doubt crept in and, right on cue, came bargaining.
This part of the process began with a flurry of internalized questions: What could I have done differently? What if I have tried harder? What if I had worked over the weekends or late into the evenings more often? What if I went secured a competitive offer—would they change their minds? What if I asked for more of a raise to augment not getting promoted? What if they allowed me the promotion and didn’t offer me a pay raise?
At the end of the day, I knew I had given it 100 percent and that there is no such thing as giving something 110 percent. I gave it my all. I did it my best. No bargaining to be had.
And so—with the realization this was, in fact, my fate—depression sat in. As a goal-oriented person, it was almost immobilizing to suddenly not know what I was working toward anymore. What once was exhaustion from being overworked was now just exhaustion.
Acceptance isn’t something that happens overnight. There are still pockets of depression, of bargaining, of anger and even moments of denial. But acceptance will always come—no matter how long it takes.
For me, acceptance came crept in when I started setting goals again. It started small, but I knew it would eventually grow. I started looking at where I could develop and grow. I revisited my performance review and the feedback from my manager, and started outlining tangible next steps. I couldn’t be sad or mad forever. Someday, I needed to move on. Why not make that day, today?
When I was a freshman in high school, I had a wonderful English teacher, the kind who made classic texts like “East of Eden” and “Great Expectations” come alive. When I finished my first semester, he gave me a B-plus. It was well within his rights to round my grade up—other students got bumped up from far less. But he hadn’t. I asked him how it was that I was stuck with the only B on my report card while some of my peers enjoyed his goodwill. He calmly explained his reasoning to me: Those students had done their best. They had given it everything they had, and regardless of the percentage, they deserved an A for their efforts. I, he believed, had phoned it in. I was capable of far more than I had achieved.
Well—damn. I turned around and worked hard during the second semester, and received an A in every subsequent English class I ever took. I did my best. All because of that one brutally honest conversation.
Twelve years later, I again have something to prove. Not just to my manager—to myself. Finally coming to terms with not getting promoted has allowed me to actually see where I need to lay down roots, where I need to grow. I’m no longer trying to grow into a title or a rank, but rather into a better version of myself, both professionally and personally. I’m through with grieving—it’s time to turn my acceptance into motivation.
Mandy spends her days working in public relations, specializing in sustainability and corporate responsibility - a job which not only fuels her soul but also pays her San Francisco rent. She spends her (virtually nonexistent) free time exploring the Bay Area craft beer scene, working on her rock collection, and wishing her cat would be the big spoon sometimes. For additional sass and details of her life held together by caffeine and dry shampoo, follow her on twitter @WayToRepresent. You can also check out her past work for us here and here.