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Not Getting Promoted… It’ll happen to all of us one day

  • Published
  • By Col. Andrew A. Torelli
  • Air Mobility Command Director of Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance

SCOTT AIR FORCE BASE, Ill. -- When promotion results are released, there’s not much published about how to deal with the disappointment of not getting promoted, accepted into a special program, or leadership position.

Eventually we will all be disappointed. It’ll occur sooner for some than others, but it’s something you can expect during your career. Here’s some advice to help you prepare:

It’s OK to be upset. You had expectations you’d get promoted. You worked hard. You made sacrifices, but for some reason(s) you weren’t selected, and those reasons may have been beyond your control.

Give yourself time to reflect. It will take time for you to start feeling better and happier in your current position. When good things happen to people, their happiness response (motivation) spikes for a short period of time and then quickly normalizes. When something bad happens their happiness response takes a dive, and it often takes two to three times longer for them to regain equilibrium. This is normal and it’s OK to feel down for some time about not getting what you really wanted.

Don’t let rejection hold you down for an extended period of time. This is where you need to be aware of yourself. There’s a fine line between feeling down, and reinforcing your negative feelings. If you fall into the trap of perpetually reinforcing negativity, it will be unhealthy for you, your friends, and family. I also call this the “spiral pit of despair” which sounds scary because it is.

If you feel like you can’t free yourself from the despair of rejection, you need to talk to someone, whether that be your leadership, friends, family, counselors, a chaplain, mental health experts, hotlines, etc. You cannot let yourself be held down by rejection, and you shouldn’t victimize yourself. Remember you can also work out, take a vacation, spend time with family and friends, and immerse yourself in work to let off steam and stress.

Re-examine your goals and dreams so you can make alternative plans. This is very important because you never want to make a hasty decision. Speed kills. Slow down and reassess. There are plenty of folks out there willing to help you if you ask for advice and mentorship. Start planning for what’s next and look for silver linings.

Robert Frost authored the poem “The Road Not Taken” to emphasize it’s not about what you could’ve done, but what you will do. Challenges present opportunities, and if the Air Force decides to close one road to you, there are others for you to travel and explore. There’s more than one path to success, but you need to know where you’re headed and that means you should have goals. Don’t knee jerk your life. Always manage your expectations and perceptions.

Consider the story of a young warrior who came to the bank of a wide river. He pondered for hours on how he’d cross the great obstacle. Just as he was about to give up, he saw a wise warrior on the other side of the river. The young warrior yelled, “Can you tell me how to get to the other side of the river?” The wise warrior pondered for a moment, before answering, “My son, you are on the other side.”

Remember to have faith and perspective. You are a member of the greatest Air Force in the world. You have to be smart to be part of this crowd. That means you're competing with a lot of smart and motivated Airmen. As you’re promoted the pond gets smaller, and the fish get bigger.

There will always be Airmen who weren’t selected for promotion. There will always be a little regret, but don’t let it define who you are. Accept that this disappointment and adversity will make you stronger, then move on. Think about the blessings you have and what other opportunities lay in front of you.

Sometimes you’re already on the right side of the river.