Seven Ways to Stay Positive when Changing Gear
By Andy Meeker, JobOppO Coaching Panel

A common trap when leaving the military is to apply for jobs that we think we ‘should’ go for. For example, some people try to ‘game’ the job search by focusing not on what they want, but on predictions about the job market, and employment trends.  Or we may find ourselves ‘following the crowd’, applying for jobs that are stereotypical ‘ex-military’ roles. We breeze the interview, and land the job, only to find that the grass isn’t so green after all.

Either way, the result is wasted energy. We may end up feeling confused, disappointed, fed up and a host of other negative emotions.  Whatever frustrations you face during a job search, managing your mindset is key.

Here are 7 ways to remain positive and rebound from setbacks during a career change:

1. Harness the power of Goal Setting, but remain flexible:

One way to focus on a positive future is to set meaningful goals. By setting ourselves goals we work towards achieving the things we want.

Motivation increases when you are moving in the direction you want to go, as you feel that you are gaining benefit for your efforts. Second, having meaningful goals boosts our self-esteem, and build confidence. While pursuing goals highlights our priorities, giving structure to each day.

But however well we plan, we cannot totally control everything that surround us. Every day, we meet surprises and unexpected events. Most of them are of minor, but small events can build up, causing frustration and anger. Especially after we’ve left the military, and the formal structure and routines we’re used to have changed.

A common mistake when changing career, is trying to do too much too fast. The most important factor is to remain flexible. As we progress through the job search, goals are bound to change. Research shows that maximum happiness comes when we set flexible goals, that address ‘the right task at the right time”.


2. Engage in mind wander and envision a new future:

When considering different paths, take some time to meditate and think about what an ideal future would look like to you. Focus on the opportunity you have to advance your career, to find a new career path, to learn something new about yourself.

To make your vision clearer, try making a list of twenty things you like. Look for themes within the list that highlight your core values and principles. Then use this list to help make career decisions.

Consider making a vision board or put-up pictures of the success you’re seeking. If you look at it every day, it reminds you of what is meaningful and important in your future role. When we envision a positive future, we are more likely to move toward it.


3. Remain confident through positive self-talk:

Confidence is one of the most significant factors affecting performance in any professional endeavour, a fact the military knows all too well. Maintaining your confidence when embarking on a new career is no different.

However, confidence can be a double-edged sword. With confidence, comes an expectation to succeed, and a desire to maintain high standards.  The risk is that we then become highly self-critical, saying things to ourselves we would never say to a friend or colleague. We start berating ourselves or fighting feelings of anxiety.

We can counter this negative thinking with positive self-talk. Positive self-talk involves telling yourself some key phrases focusing on your skills, happiness, and your peace of mind:

Become Aware: The first step in regaining confidence is to become more aware of what you say to yourself in different situations. Some people find keeping a ‘thought diary’ can help. See the following link for more info:

Practice & Apply: Then, when you are feeling anxious or frustrated, instead of berating yourself, try replacing these words with phrases that help you perform well and cope successfully. Use positive self-talk while applying for jobs, and when preparing for interviews. Praise yourself for each successful step forward, no matter how small. 


4. Find positive ways to channel your frustration or anger:

Not all frustration is bad. It may be used in constructive ways, such as making us more focused in the future. However, when frustration happens frequently, as is common with a job search, it may escalate and become anger, anxiety, or stress. 

Exercise is the best-known way to burn off excess energy and deal with any stress you’re feeling. Alternatively, breathing and mindfulness techniques can be used to calm down, and let frustration go.

If you’ve never practised mindfulness, and want to know more, the following resource can help:

Some people find it helpful to get the angry energy out by ‘venting’ to others. But we need to be careful, as sometimes letting anger out can make the emotion worse in the future.  Also, talking to the wrong person at the wrong time about your issues, can just leave you feeling more frustrated.

Venting can be a healthy emotional outlet – just try to limit it to 15 minutes, and then move on to more positive conversation. This is where a career coach, mentor, or critical friend can be invaluable. They have the skills to let you vent, while making sure it doesn’t spiral.

The real positive of ‘venting’ to a professional or critical friend, is that once the anger has passed, there is the opportunity for valuable learning. The process of venting negative emotions, and then talking through events, helps us to reflect and rationalise. It allows you to be more flexible in your thinking and as a result, cultivate optimism.


5. Cultivate Optimism:

People who suffer setbacks may start to believe that ‘they can’t do it’. They begin to feel helpless; they lose hope for the future. Feeling overwhelmed by the challenge of searching for new jobs, can increase feelings of pessimism and helplessness.

Martin Seligman (the founder of Positive Psychology) advises us that this is a state of mind that we can change.  His book: Learned Optimism can teach us how to think differently. He also offers a free optimism assessment on his website:

In sport, an optimistic mind is one of the biggest factors that separates those that reach the top, from those that don’t. The same is true in career progression.

The key strategy to cultivating optimism, involves what Martin Seligman terms one’s Explanatory Style.  When failure occurs, pessimists have a tendency to explain events as being just part of the way things always are for them. Whereas, optimists tend to see negative events as more transient because they quickly make sense of their experience, see that any set-back is temporary, and notice what is within their control.


6. Take some time off but avoid procrastination:

Pessimism often leads to procrastination.  These negative thoughts may result in a ‘sluggish’ job-search. Each time we sit down to do work, we find something else to do.

Another common cause of procrastination is perfectionism:

Perfectionism isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Striving for excellence is a virtue and a  positive character trait. However, the problem is that the more important something is to us, the more likely we are to resist it. We want it to be perfect. We then become inflexible, only applying for jobs that our skill and experience matches perfectly. Or we may spend far too much time sweating over the small stuff.

Procrastination may also come from a fear failure, leading to a range of avoidance tactics. The former US Marine, and now published author, Steven Pressfield has written several books on procrastination (which he terms ‘resistance’):

In his first book (The War of Art), Pressfield advises:

  • Define your dreams.
  • Stay committed to your craft.
  • Accept that Resistance is something you’re going to have to live with.
  • Stop it from paralysing you by facing it, feeling it, and taking action despite it.


7. Know When to Look for Help:

In a job search, there may come a time when you feel you’re losing momentum. Or you may get a sense of restlessness that comes from knowing you could achieve so much more.  If this happens, here are a few questions to consider:

  • Do I feel in control and not overwhelmed?
  • Am I fully aware of my unique strengths and talents?
  • Have I set goals for my search?
  • Am I keeping up with those goals?

If the job search starts dragging you down, or you’re simply unsure of your direction, consider enlisting the help of a professional coach, mentor, or critical friend.

Career coaches add value by accelerating the planning process, challenging assumptions, and by turning dreams into action strategies. Equally, coaching offers support when someone gets stuck.



About the Author:

Andy Meeker is a qualified Psychological Coach who specialises in the areas of career development, leadership, and optimal performance. He previously served for 18 years in the RAF as an Air Loadmaster, but ‘changed gear’ in 2008 to study psychology and executive coaching.  He now works with a wide range of organisations to help individuals improve performance and reach their full potential.





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