How to have a healthier perspective on career success and disappointment

For those who pursue early ambitions, the thought of that moment when success happens is ever-present – how it will feel, what it will mean, the joy it will bring. But what happens if, upon reaching the pinnacle, there’s disappointment alongside the recognition that a long-term goal has been achieved? Clare Flaxen, a UK-based cognitive behavioural therapist and founder of CF Mindset, which enables people to work towards their ambitions with confidence and without compromising happiness, explains why there’s often a disconnect between the expectation of how reaching a goal will feel and the reality.

WORDS: Katie Scott

Why the reality of success can often differ from the idea of success

Clare says ‘When you set your sights on an ambition, you’re more often than not playing out your own internal narrative about what you think achieving the ambition will be like. The reality can often be something very different from the projections and interpretations you’ve placed on it and doesn’t always live up to the dream.’

When London-born author Jasmine Richards applied to university, included in her choices was Oxford, specifically because it was where her favourite author, Philip Pullman, had studied. There was never any question in her mind that she would write. She’d started as a young child, composing stories for her family, and then worked towards this ambition relentlessly.

‘When I finally achieved this, and my book was acquired by HarperCollins [Publishers] in the US, it was an incredible feeling,’ she says. ‘I felt like my hard work had paid off and the dream had manifested.’

For Jasmine, the euphoria of achieving her ambition quickly faded when she realised she wasn’t going to replicate her US success in her home country, the UK. ‘The market wasn’t ready for kids’ fantasy stories that centred upon children of colour,’ she says. ‘We’re talking 2010 here. It was a tough realisation, especially as publishing is an industry I love.’ Jasmine had to deal with both the disappointment that her ambition had failed to live up to decades of expectation and the doubt that publishing could ever be the world of which she had dreamt.

How to learn from career disappointment

When the realisation of disappointment first kicks in, it can feel like a void. You might have no idea what to do next, especially if a single ambition has been the focus of your efforts for a long time. Jasmine made the decision to start her own fiction incubator, Storymix Studio, to create inclusive stories and nurture voices from under-represented backgrounds in children’s books.

‘I decided I would take the disappointment and use it to make a change in the industry I loved and fight for greater equality,’ she says. It hasn’t been easy. Jasmine admits that it’s the hardest thing she’s ever done, but she adds that it’s also been empowering, as she’s enabled others to fulfil the same ambition she’d held for herself for so long.

Jasmine was able to find a way past her experiences and follow a new path. But how do you know what this path might be? Clare says that focusing on the journey towards an achievement rather than the destination is one way to discover alternative routes and options. It also means you’re not waiting until you reach a fixed point in the road to feel fulfilled.

‘The disappointment after the initial elation can be caused by focusing only on the external outcome, rather than the whole experience,’ she says. Instead, if you look at all the steps you’ve taken to get to this point, you’ll feel a longer lasting sense of pride in what you’ve already done, and excitement at what might lie ahead.

Clare’s advice for developing a healthier perspective on career ambitions

  • Focus on the whole experience rather than getting hooked into just the external outcome. Enjoy the process – there’s fulfilment to be gained at every step, not just the destination.
  • Tune into the expectations you’re placing on achieving your ambition. What do you believe it will give you or say about you? If you’re invested in a certain outcome or feeling, allow yourself to bring in some flexibility. Let go of expecting it to be a certain way and be open to experiencing it as it comes to you.
  • Unhook your sense of self-worth or success from external achievements. Don’t confuse an external event with a statement about inner worth or identity.
  • Look for other elements in life that feel meaningful – friends and family, activities you enjoy, anything you feel proud of and satisfied with – and choose to include them in your focus. An ambition or achievement represents one part of your life not the whole sum of it.

To learn more about Jasmine’s work and Storymix Studio, visit and To find out more about Clare, visit or follow her on Instagram @clareflaxen