5 Constructive Strategies For Overcoming Setbacks In Your Life and Career

Overcoming setbacks: turn obstacles and failures into triumphs with these 5 strategies. Real talk with a female entrepreneur.

I have a confession to make: I’m experiencing some professional growing pains. While things are generally moving in a positive direction, I’m not growing as much or as quickly as I’d like to. I was feeling really frustrated and irritated about this last week, and I knew I was projecting that negativity but I didn’t know how to stop.

Fortunately, a good friend called me out on it, and we ended up having a really good talk. I was shocked to discover that she shared many of the same frustrations and fears even though she’s much farther along her path than I am. As we discussed our obstacles, I started thinking about the last time I’ve felt this frustrated: The Great Recession. How did I overcome career setbacks then? How did I figure out where I needed to grow? And how can I apply those lessons this time around?

A Setback On A Global Scale

I moved to San Francisco from LA in January of 2008, just as the rumblings of recession began. I knew that relocating to a different media market would mean learning to navigate a completely different professional landscape. So I cobbled together three part-time opportunities with different outlets – each in a different type of media – so I could figure out where I belonged. I quickly realized where I wanted to be, and by the time summer rolled around, I had a plan to work my way into a full-time job there.

That job never materialized. Instead, the market crash quashed any plans of growth within the company. I watched one by one as the cubicles around mine went dark, and eventually I was given the inevitable news: my job was being eliminated. I’ll never forget my last day there. I was organizing my contacts into a spreadsheet so the producer could use it after I left. As I input the data, I heard the man in the cubicle next to me tearfully telling his wifehe’d been let go. It was four days before Christmas, and I knew his house was already in foreclosure.

Upset as I was, I was grateful that I still had a roof over my head and a partner who could support us both. This afforded me the ability to pivot, and I spent the next year thinking, planning, and learning new skills as  I worked part-time, waiting until the right opportunity came along.

5 Strategies For Overcoming Setbacks

Over the past week, I’ve realized there were several key moves I made back then that helped propel me toward the next opportunity. I’ve also realized that these strategies have applications reaching far beyond the office. They work in parenting, relationships…pretty much everywhere in life! Not only that, but I’ve been using them with success everywhere from the playground to the office ever since. Here are my 5 strategies for overcoming setbacks at work and in life:

  1. Take responsibility. Yup, that means admitting where you went wrong out loud. Scary, right? One of my favorite lifestyle gurus, Brené Brown, told Oprah that she wrote Rising Strong because comeback stories often tend to skip from failure to success. We don’t like to talk about how we got from point A to point B because it’s uncomfortable. And yet, we can’t overcome setbacks without making ourselves vulnerable because that’s how we learn. My journey through my current obstacle would not have begun if I hadn’t told my friend exactly where I felt like I was failing. Saying it out loud enabled me to own my mistakes and start learning from them.
  2. Get some feedback. Part of admitting our shortcomings means being open to receiving constructive criticism. I think this is a challenge for most people; we tend to take criticism of our work as criticism of ourselves. So when I’m about to open up, I remind myself to be an active listener. I make a point not to explain why I don’t think change is possible. Instead, I ask a question about how that person might accomplish their idea if they were in my shoes. The answers often surprise me! When overcoming setbacks in work or in life, the old cliche is true: “Two heads are better than one.”
  3. Find your “why,” and remind yourself of it constantly. Why am I trying to build my business this way?  Of course I work to make money, but I also do it because I feel called to inspire others to live their best, healthiest lives. What’s your “why?” Find it, and when you hit the inevitable obstacle, remind yourself what it is. Making decisions with your “why” as your intention will
  4. Confront your fear. In my experience, fear is lurking behind every roadblock. After all, change is scary!  But here’s the thing about fear: it’s the brain’s way of holding you back from something that’s potentially dangerous. The problem is that it often exaggerates the danger. I was listening to an interview (Oprah again. Love her SuperSoul Conversations!) with New Orleans Mayor Martin Landrieu. He was talking about how he spearheaded the movement to remove the city’s Confederate statues and how that initiative prompted some very well-founded fear. When he confronted it, he decided that removing the statues was too important for him to heed the danger, so he dealt with his fears by asking himself three questions. They went like this: What am I afraid of? How likely is it that particular bad thing will happen? How can I move forward while preventing that thing from happening? I thought that was so powerful. If this man can move forward with such a controversial decision even though it may well put his life in peril by answering those three questions, then surely they’re applicable to life’s much smaller setbacks.
  5. Stop comparing yourself to others. This is where I often get hung up. I look at others in my field and I wonder why they’re surpassing me in certain areas. It must surely mean they’re better than me in some way, right? WRONG. It’s healthy to look at someone else’s career path in hopes that we might learn from it, but when it comes to comparing actual people, it’s apples to oranges. Your journey is your own. It’s as unique as you are! And often those who struggle end up ahead of the game in the end because of what they’ve learned by overcoming setbacks.

I don’t pretend to have all the answers. Like everyone else in the world, I’m a work in progress! But I hope these strategies for overcoming setbacks are helpful to you as they are to me.

Tell me what you think!