Setbacks: catastrophes or opportunities?

When things go wrong most people’s reaction is frustration and disappointment.  That’s understandable. However, setbacks, disappointments and failures have a useful role to play in our personal growth and development.

I had an exploratory meeting with a client once and I asked him, “what do you do when you have a setback?” He replied, “I panic.” I then followed this with “And what do you do after you finish panicking?” and he said “I continue to panic.”

It turned out that he had been hugely successful when he was employed. Every project he started turned to gold. But then, when he decided to go freelance, he didn’t have the inner resilience and none of the insights we develop only through setbacks, failures and disappointments.

Imagine this scenario:

You got professionally involved with an unreliable supplier but you didn’t realise it at first.

The first time they missed a deadline you felt upset and stressed out because your own client depended on the timely delivery.  You complained loudly and they said “sorry but the printer was off sick.”  You feel helpless and frustrated.  How can you legislate against someone being sick?

A few months later it happened again. This time you tell yourself “enough is enough” and you draft a strong, angry letter.  You’re not sure whether or not to send it because you haven’t stood up to them before (or anyone else, for that matter) so you show it to several people to make sure it’s OK and they agreed with you that you fully entitled to feel angry and let down.

Things improved.  Then, a few months later they again missed a deadline and this time you handled it differently:

You wrote a very strong letter.  You knew the tone and the content were appropriate so you didn’t feel the need to have it checked by several other people.  You have learned to trust your judgment.

Your letter was different from the previous draft in one crucial way:  it included a consequence: this is what will happen if you miss a deadline again or produce work that isn’t up to standard.

As you gradually became more confident in your ability to handle the situation you begin to feel good about yourself.  You know that, if and when find yourself in a similar situation again, you will handle it confidently and competently because, whichever way they respond you will know what to do.

That’s the benefit of setbacks.

It’s also worth noting that insights don’t always occur immediately or even smoothly.  I suggest you watch the film ‘Ground Hog Day’ both for entertainment but also for understanding the process of managing setbacks and failures.

Does this chime with you? If so, please share.

If you would like to know more about coaching, please click here to send me a message or call me on my mobile 07903 795027


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