Thinking about the upside of bad work news before it happens keeps you calm, resilient and productive.
Thinking about the upside of bad work news before it happens keeps you calm and happy. Getty

It’s common knowledge that an optimistic attitude helps you climb the career ladder—no matter how disappointing and discouraging work gets. You don’t get the expected raise. Your boss constantly talks over you in meetings. A coworker steals your idea. Most of us have been there and have the T-shirt. But even if bad news doesn’t actually happen, we are prone to expect the worst, especially when we’ve been hit with career disappointments in the past. When we highlight the negative aspects of our jobs, it can dash hope and excitement and cause us to lose the enthusiasm and motivation that keeps us engaged and productive.

Optimism Versus Pessimism

Being able to see the positive side of a negative situation can arm you with the hope of overcoming work pressures, obstacles and disappointments. Scientists have shown that optimism literally expands your peripheral vision, allowing you to see the big picture more than you typically do. Studies show that optimists have lower stress levels and more stable cardiovascular systems, and on average, live seven and a half years longer than pessimists. While pessimists are more likely to succumb to job pressures, optimists see job stress as temporary and external to them. If you look for the upside of a career obstacle and search for the opportunity in the difficulty, you’re more likely to overcome hardships and scoot up the career ladder faster and farther than a negative attitude allows. An optimistic mindset doesn’t arm you with magical joy juice, and you don’t become a smiley-face romantic looking through rose-colored glasses. You’re able to take realistic steps to cope with work stress instead of succumbing to it. If you’re not a natural-born optimist, no worries. You can learn coping skills to deal with career challenges.

Preemptive Optimism

You might have heard the old adage, “Disappointments can be blessings in disguise.” According to recent research, this saying has a lot of credibility. The study, reported in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, found that when you look for the silver lining before bad news arrives, it lessens your worry and disappointment. “How can people maximize emotional well-being when things go wrong?” the researchers asked. “One way may be to shift focus from the dark cloud to the silver lining, even when waiting.” The study found that planning for bad news before it comes—preemptive optimism—holds worry at bay and softens the blow if it ultimately happens.

What do these findings mean for your career? Preemptive optimism is a great tool to maximize emotional well-being when you’re waiting (which can seem like an eternity) for career outcomes that might not turn out the way you hope. Suppose you’re on pins and needles, waiting to see if you got the job you applied for. You can make a list of the preemptive benefits if you don’t get the job to help you cope during and after the results are in. For example, you might say, “It’s just as well. The position pays more than my current job, but it’s not as interesting nor as good a match for my skills.” Or suppose you’re in the running for a promotion that provides a larger salary, but you remind yourself if you don’t get the promotion, you won’t be in a higher tax bracket that would take most of the salary increase anyway.”

So, when you’re awaiting the possibility of negative career news, don’t spend your workday distressed or walking on eggshells. Make a list of positive outcomes that might accompany the bad news. The silver linings you come up with can protect you from emotional suffering and help you remain calm and uplifted—even physically healthier regardless of the consequences. And focusing on the possibility of a bad outcome doesn’t rob you of your joy if the news turns out to be what you hoped for. Either way, you’re ready to move on with optimism that will contribute to your career success and advancement.


  • Bryan Robinson, Ph.D.

    Journalist, psychotherapist, and Author of 40 books.

    Bryan Robinson, Ph.D.

    Bryan Robinson, Ph.D. is a professor emeritus at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, psychotherapist in private practice, and award-winning author of two novels and 40 nonfiction books that have been translated into 15 languages. His latest books are CHAINED TO THE DESK IN A HYBRID WORLD: A GUIDE TO WORK-LIFE BALANCE (New York University Press, 2023)#CHILL: TURN OFF YOUR JOB AND TURN ON YOUR LIFE (William Morrow, 2019), DAILY WRITING RESILIENCE: 365 MEDITATIONS & INSPIRATIONS FOR WRITERS (Llewellyn Worldwide, 2018). He is a regular contributor to, Psychology Today, and Thrive Global. He has appeared on 20/20, Good Morning America, The CBS Early Show, ABC's World News Tonight, NPR’s Marketplace, NBC Nightly News and he hosted the PBS documentary "Overdoing It: How To Slow Down And Take Care Of Yourself." website: