When then-Emory professor (and now Yale associate dean) Jeffrey Sonnenfeld resigned over allegations of vandalism in the late 1990s—allegations later retracted when both Emory and Georgia Tech, which withdrew a deanship offer, paid Sonnenfeld hefty sums after being sued—Sonnenfeld did nothing to take control of the story.
Soon his name appeared in leading newspapers as Emory’s then president, William Chace, decided to anonymously tell the world his opinion of Professor Sonnenfeld.
This mistake—of not taking the initiative when bad things happen to you so you have some chance of appearing powerful and getting your side of the story out—was not one former Yahoo CEO Carol Bartz was going to make. When she was fired, she took the initiative to tell her employees, and the world, about it.
Lots of people get fired and then come back—think Bernie Marcus, co-founder of the Home Depot fired from Handy Dan Home Improvement, Jamie Dimon, JP Morgan Chase’s CEO forced out of Citigroup by Sandy Weill, or Rudolph Crew, named the best school superintendent in America in the spring of 2008 after being forced from his New York School’s chancellorship by then-mayor Rudy Giuliani and before being fired by the Miami-Dade County School board that fall (which goes to show that job performance and keeping your job are only loosely related, a point I make repeatedly in "Power: Why Some People Have It—and Others Don’t").
It’s not just high profile people who suffer this fate. Many people will suffer career difficulties and reversals. The question is whether or not they have the persistence and resilience to recover.
Here are some ways of thinking about what to do if and when some bad thing happens to you.