How to Handle a Setback

I recently experienced a setback in my professional life, and it got me thinking about this topic in depth.  Reflecting on the situation helped me come to terms with this setback, and I believe it can do the same for you.

The Thing About Setbacks is…

First of all, there are a couple of things about setbacks that I think everyone would agree upon, including:

  1. Setbacks suck!  Let’s be honest, nobody likes coming up short in their pursuit of success.  Nevertheless, adversity is a part of life that everyone experiences.
  2. Setbacks are unavoidable.  No matter who you are, your station in life, what you do, or how good you are at your job, everybody runs into a roadblock at one point or another.  The important thing is how you respond to a setback, which leads to opportunities described next.

Opportunities Arising from Setbacks

While setbacks are often beyond your control, the manner in which you respond to a roadblock, detour or setback is entirely up to you.  As such, this gives rise to the following opportunities:

  • Differentiate yourself through persistence.  When it comes to adversity, many people cave upon experiencing a setback.  Instead of throwing in the towel or making excuses, set yourself apart from the crowd by getting up, dusting yourself off, and continuing the good fight.  I am reminded of a quote from the late Jim Valvano’s famous speech at the 1993 ESPYs when he said “Don’t give up, don’t ever give up…”.  Valvano’s message and the concept of persistence are quite simple, yet a single failure often results in people quitting.  As such, always remember that choosing not to give up differentiates you from others.

  • Learn from experiencing a setback Setbacks present a unique opportunity to learn from real-life experiences, and the lessons learned are significantly more valuable than anything you can learn from a book or in a classroom.  One of the best ways to learn from a setback is to compare actual results to the outcome that you anticipated.  While analyzing the situation that lead to a setback can be difficult, learning from past mishaps is vital to your future success.


To recap, keep the following tips in mind whenever you experience a setback:

  1. It is natural to feel disappointed and frustrated upon hitting a snag in life.  Just remember that everybody goes through adversity, but nobody enjoys it.  Your response to adversity is the most important thing, and this is something you control.
  2. Set yourself apart from the crowd by electing not to quit and learning from the experience.

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