Not Getting the Promotion Was the Best Thing For My Career

You don’t need to settle for the established path

When I walked into the CEO’s office, the first thing the COO said was, “Zach, before we finish, I want to make sure we discuss some integration plans and regions I think you can help with.”

I knew I didn’t get the job.

Over the next 30 minutes, both the COO and CEO talked about my potential, additional experiences I need to gain, and future opportunities. A few months prior, this exact conversation was expected. The chatter and expectations about me getting the job made the conversation more challenging.

My wife took the news worse than me. Looking back, we both realize it was the best thing that could have happened in my career.

Finding a new path

“The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way.” — Marcus Aurelius

Everything is an opportunity to improve.

Any barrier, or “failure,” leads to further development. In some cases, “failure” is the only way to learn the correct approach.

Nicholas Taleb goes one step further in his book Antifragile. He advocates to “put yourself in situations that love mistakes” as “errors become more beneficial than harmful.”

Mistakes are how we learn, refine, and innovate. Failure invites re-evaluation.

The moment I walked out of my CEO’s office, I knew my career path would change.

Two months later, I named the National Director of Quality and Research, a role I built and have occupied for the past four years.

Finding the right role

What gets you excited about getting up in the morning? What job would fulfill you with a sense of purpose?

For me, driving clinical quality was the answer.

About two weeks after the notice I would not be promoted, I reached out to the COO with a plan. I outlined how my skill set, experience, and passion would allow me to serve the practice better in a quasi-research-quality-education role as opposed to a manager.

She agreed.

Over the next two weeks, we developed a job description and transition plan.

It won’t always be as simple as asking to create a new job.

To find the right role and get buy-in, you have to showcase you can fill the role first. I conducted research side projects, thought continuing education courses, collaborated with nearby universities, and took over administration of our quality measures in addition to my full-time managerial job.

I didn’t burn out because I loved the work.

If you do develop and take on a new role, you will need to follow through with demonstrating value.

My role has evolved and shifted multiple times. I like it that way.

The ride has had its challenges, but it has led me to a great career with an exciting future.

I wouldn’t change anything

I recently had a conversation with several colleagues about my extreme laziness and type B personality I had in high school and undergrad. Yes, the guy taking on side projects was a tried and true Type B.

Some of my greatest accomplishments during undergrad at Virginia Tech included reading all the Harry Potter books 5 times, watching all 10 seasons of Friends — twice — and winning three fantasy baseball leagues in one season.

I reflected on whether I would change if I could go back in time. That is a substantial amount of time that could have been put towards working, volunteering, gaining exposure to physical therapy (my current career) building relationships, and reading non-fiction.

If I did all those things, I wouldn’t be where I am today.

My path, lessons learned, development, and choices would have differed. I wouldn’t change anything about it. Our past makes us who we are and sets the stage for future successes.

It took five years of rejections to finally get a session accepted at the premier physical therapy conference, Combined Sections Meeting. It took 16 lead author rejections before finally having a research manuscript accepted in a major journal.

It took a rejected job promotion for me to find the role that was best for me and my family.

Every failure, regardless of its scale, is an opportunity to learn and improve.

If you approach failure as an opportunity to improve and are honest with those the failures affect, you will grow into a much stronger person. I recall more from patients who failed to improve, papers that were rejected, and crucial conversations that went poorly.

Accept reality, learn from the past, and make adjustments for the future. Every failure presents an opportunity.

“If you apply yourself to the task before you, follow it with right reason seriously, vigorously, calmly, without allowing anything to distract you; expect nothing, fear nothing, be satisfied with your present activities according to your nature, you will be happy; no one is able to prevent this” — Marcus Aurelius

A physical therapist tackling health misinformation | Elemental, Better Humans, The Startup, The Ascent, Mind Cafe |

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