At this writing, I can bench press 185 pounds. It wasn’t easy to get here. I put everything into it. My personal trainer kept saying, “Let me see your tremor of truth.” Raising an eyebrow at her, I grunted and trembled and sweated before reaching the goal, but I got there. She explained later that the phrase “tremor of truth” is used in physical fitness circles when we push ourselves to the max. Lifting weights, you grimace as a tremor of unease shoots through the body. Your arm muscles quiver during push-ups. Your legs tremble with exhaustion running a marathon. The brain says you can’t do it, but just as grass grows through concrete, you persevere and discover mental and physical reserves you didn’t know you had. And just before giving up, you push through the challenge.


So what does working out have to do with career smack downs? The key to success—even as important as your skill set—is resilience, dogged determination in the face of failure or disappointment. Tremor of truth builds muscles on the physical plane and a growth mindset on the psychological plane. Meteoric obstacles often seem too great, as if you’re pushing through relentless steel, a vein of encased ore: an impossible deadline, a heartbreaking job rejection, a lousy review, or the rumble of your own self-doubt. Sometimes the setbacks make it too hard to bounce back. The hole feels too deep, too dark, the disillusionment too wide and overwhelming. Over time rejections and disappointments nibble away at you like torture from half a million cuts. It starts to feel as if you’re bleeding to death and can’t tolerate one more slash. Statistics say you have more stamina to continue to take safety risks after a car crash than to continue after a series of psychological defeats. After repeated failure for a promotion, many employees throw in the towel to avoid more letdowns. Your attempt to bring quick relief to the misery of defeat robs you of knowing what missed opportunities lay beyond the barrier. This impulsive reaction—scientists call it the what-the-hell effect—is a way out: permission to give up. Adding insult to injury, you seek comfort in the very thing you’re trying to conquer: career failure.

Career Smack Downs

Although professional growth can be painful, it can be even more painful to remain tight in a secure little nest. Skill and personality alone won’t carry you through the massive job hurdles. When you’re knocked down in the work arena, the heartbreak slams the wind out of you. Your face is marred by dust and sweat and blood. Yet you push yourself up on your scabby knees, stagger to your feet, and summon the courage to try again. Just when you’re ready to give up, one more tremor unearths a second wind and a vein of resilience that you didn’t know you had. A sudden jolt sizzles through you, and you’re fueled with pit-bull determination. One extra push and you plough through the smack down moments that had brought you to your knees, moving over the finish line.

Springback Moments

You can build a growth mindset by waiting for your reserves to kick in and learning how much more you’re capable of. If you give up too soon, you’ll never know if you had it in you to pull it off. And that’s a tough unknown to live with. In the heat of the moment, ask if you’re pushing hard and far enough through the gray mist of uncertainty. Or do you need to amp up your efforts? And how far do you stretch before reaching your breaking point? If you’re like most people, you can go farther than you think. “Springback” refers to a process when metal returns to its original shape after undergoing compression and tension (stretching). You, too, have a psychological elastic limit to which you can stretch to a certain point before returning to your original shape. Springback moments happen after defeat, mistakes, or hopelessness over seemingly impossible odds, preventing you from giving up on your career dreams, no matter how improbable they seem.

Your ‘Tremor Of Truth’

Here are ways your “tremor of truth” can mine the hidden reserves you didn’t know you had—golden opportunities to cultivate the resilience necessary to push through the veins of career hardships:

1. Grow thick skin and expect rejection and setbacks. Commit yourself in advance to facing the many smack downs you will encounter like all successful people before you.

2. Ditch the desire for comfort and step into career growth pains. Be willing to go to the edge of your emotional pain so you can be fully present with what lays beyond the barrier.

3. Cultivate career sustainability. Think of yourself as an elastic band that bends and stretches to a certain point before you spring back higher than you fall.

4. Turn roadblocks into steppingstones. Pinpoint opportunity contained in difficulty. Make it a goal to use negative career challenges—no matter how painful, frustrating, big or small—as lessons from which to learn. Ask, “What can I manage or overcome here?” or “How can I turn this matter around to my advantage?”

5. Refer to previous experience. Reflect on past obstacles you’ve overcome in your career climb. Point to lessons learned and underscore ways you have grown stronger through the hard knocks.

6. Take risks. Find that one place in your career where you’ve been hiding, then stick your neck out from your comfort zone. Ask what edge you can go to in your job. Seek out risky career opportunities that help you bloom instead of low-risk situations that keep you safe in a bud.

7. Identify self-doubts that have cramped your work style or crippled you from growing fully professionally. Harness them—instead of running from them—and channel them into useful skills so they don’t paralyze you.

8. Stay off the roller coaster. Manage the ups-and-downs of your career by treating highs and lows equally. Celebrate the highs but don’t take them anymore seriously than the lows, and don’t take downturns anymore seriously than upswings.

9. Eschew the what-the-hell effect. This attitude only adds insult to injury. Face career letdowns by taking the towel you want to throw in and use it to wipe the sweat off your face then hop back into your career saddle.

10. Stop throwing the book at yourself and catch yourself when you fall. After a setback or discouraging situation, your motivation bounces back quicker when you support yourself with loving-kindness. Instead of kicking yourself when you’re down, be on your own side, wish yourself well, and be your best advocate as you progress on your career trajectory.


  • 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: