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Career curveballs: Handling the toughest turns

(Thinkstock)

(Thinkstock)

As the old saying goes, when life hands you lemons, make lemonade.

That’s as important in the scope of a career as in any other part of life. And in the course of any professional’s career track, there will surely be a few curveballs.

It’s a topic LinkedIn Influencers took on this week, with glimpses into how they’ve coped with everything from being sacked, to being diagnosed with depression, to learning to tame their own egos.

Here’s what a few of them had to say.

Don Peppers, founding partner at Peppers & Rogers Group at TeleTech

During the Christmas holidays one year, Peppers took an extra week off to work on his first book, this one on building customer relationships and interactive marketing. He recalled the experience as exhilarating. But, “the day came in January, however, when I had to return to work as President of Perkins-Butler Direct Marketing… And I was dreading it,” wrote Peppers in his post Getting Fired Isn’t All It’s Cracked Up to Be.

The firm’s parent company, Chiat/Day/Mojo had had financial problems and Peppers had been asked to come up with a plan for cutting staff. He was returning to a meeting about just that. Or so he thought.

“As I entered the conference room to discuss this grisly task with Chiat/Day’s CEO, Bob Wolf, he handed me a piece of paper and said he thought I ought to read it before our meeting began. It was a Chiat/Day draft press release announcing the news that Don Peppers, President and CEO of Perkins-Butler, had resigned to pursue other interests, which included writing a book,” Peppers wrote.

 “My position was being eliminated because we just had too many highly paid executives, and my position would not be filled after my departure,” he wrote. “I’d never been fired. I’d always been promoted. Being fired wasn’t something that had ever seemed even remotely possible to me.”

But the next day, Peppers wrote, he woke up with a completely different feeling. He was elated. “I could now work on the book as much as I wanted. All I had to do (and this was big) was feed the family,” he wrote. “I figured if I could just piece together enough free-lance consulting work to get by for the next 18 months or so, then the book would come out and everything would be alright. In the end we squeaked through, but barely.”

It wasn’t long before Peppers book was published and that just happened to coincide with the early opening of the Internet for all, via Mosaic, the first popular web browser. “Suddenly we were in heavy demand around the world for our views on the shape of interactive marketing,” he wrote.

T Boone Pickens, founder, chairman and chief executive officer at BP Capital and TBP Investments Management

T Boone Pickens had a career curveball in 1996: depression. (Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

“I once read that four of the main triggers of depression are losing your job, moving out of your home, divorce, and the death of a family member or close friend. In 1996, I was four for four,” wrote Pickens in his post The Year I was Diagnosed with Depression.

“I had spent most of my life winning. Now I was taking some hard hits,” he wrote, adding that he was eventually diagnosed with clinical depression. “At 68, I was well past the official age of retirement, and certainly at a point when most people would be happy to call it quits. Not me.”

But, Pickens struggled because the firm he founded, Mesa, had been lost, he was in the midst of a divorce and living in a hotel and his best friends had died in a car accident. 

“Throughout my career, I’ve been known for my optimism and a confidence that any obstacle or failure could be overcome. Now everything seemed to be going downhill,” he wrote. “A psychiatrist put me on antidepressants. I began emerging from a really dark decade. Everything was starting to fall into place.”

Pickens wore that once he was feeling better, his focus returned. The lesson he learned: “Things will get better if you hang in there and believe in yourself. The attributes and skills that made you successful in the first place don’t disappear,” Pickens wrote.

Deepak Chopra, founder Chopra Foundation

Deepak Chopra learned to tame his ego. (Jason Kempin/Getty Images)

The worst setback in my career took place after I had graduated from medical school in India in the 1970s, came to America, and set my heart on doing research in endocrinology,” wrote Chopra in his post How I Learned to Tame the Ego. “I destroyed my dream overnight, with very long-term consequences.”

The most prestigious research fellowships were those in Boston medicine and I was offered one in an endocrinology program at a hospital affiliated with Tufts University that took only two or three new fellows a year,” he wrote.

“One day at a routine staff meeting my supervisor quizzed me on a technical detail in front of the group… I answered offhandedly, because he didn’t really want the information, only to put me on the spot,” wrote Chopra. The supervisor was irritated, saying, “This is something you should have in your head.”

“Everyone in the room grew quiet. I got up, walked over to him, and dumped a bulky file of papers on top of him. ‘Now you have it in your head,” I said, and walked out,” Chopra wrote. The enraged supervisor followed Chopra to his car and warned Chopra not to drive away. He told Chopra he could, essentially, ruin his career.

That turned out to be “quite true,” Chopra wrote. “The word would go out, and with his disapproval I had no future in endocrinology. But in my mind I wasn’t walking away from a career. I was standing up to someone who had tried to humiliate me in front of the group.”

“In an instant I lost a prestigious fellowship and wound up working nights at a suburban ER to support my young family.,” Chopra wrote. “As it happened... my career wasn't over, because my adviser… had antagonized a lot of people, one of whom took delight in hiring me.”

But, in this, Chopra wrote that he learned to tame his own ego. “My blowup could be called a clash of egos, mine against my adviser's. The outcome was that mine got flattened,” he wrote. “The ego is a permanent part of the self, and a valuable one. But when it decides to run the show, your inner world becomes distorted.”

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