Crossroad sign showing setbacks to success


5 Ways to Turn Setbacks into Success

Kitty Boitnott, Ph.D., NBCT, RScP

Career Transition & Job Seach Coach | Life Strategies & Stress Management Coach



No one enjoys failing. At least, I haven't met anyone yet who did.
One possible exception to that might have been Thomas Edison. He must have experienced some sort of satisfaction or equanimity from repeated failure. He reportedly failed thousands of times in his efforts to invent the electric light bulb. If he quit before hitting on the right combination, someone else would have done it...eventually. But the point is that he continued to search for the solution without giving up.
Perhaps he was able to continue because he was already successful by most accounts. Indeed, he had already invented many fabulous inventions while he sought a solution to the light bulb. He held over 1000 U.S. patents, and more in other countries.
Napoleon Hill, author of Think and Grow Rich observed, "Most great people have attained their greatest success just one step beyond their greatest failure." 
I experienced a great session with a success coach last week. Because of that, I am thinking today about what motivates people--including myself. When we experience setbacks--and we all do--what makes some people continue while others quit because it is just too hard to keep going? As a result of my thinking about this question the last few days, I would like to share with you what I am considering as five (5) ways to turn setbacks into success.
1) Adopt a different way of looking at the situation. Mindset is critically important. How you choose to look at any given situation makes all the difference in how you experience the situation. Do you keep going or give in to your impulse to curl up in a ball and hide forever? As I have written many times before, you always get to choose your response. You are the only person in charge of you. You can choose your attitude, and if you choose to perceive your setback as fatal and forever, it will be. If you choose to see it as a temporary condition, you will ultimately pick yourself up and move on. You choose.
This strategy was good for me when I was going through my divorce. I could have found all kinds of ways to beat myself up over it. But what good would have that done? I have chosen, instead, to view it as a learning experience. It was a period in my life when I learned a lot of lessons about life, relationships and myself. I needed to understand that no one is perfect. And no one makes perfect decisions or behaves perfectly all the time. If we did, how would we learn to do any different and move forward? Maya Angelou said, "When you know better, you do better." Amen to that!
2) Don't let other people get inside your head. We let other people dictate to us way too often. Not literally, of course. But think about how you conduct yourself at home and work. How often do you play out the "What will So-and-So say if I wear this to work? If I say such-and-such, how will my friends react? If I do (fill in the blank) what will people say about me behind my back?"
Our fear of other people's disapproval has a way of keeping us in line, doesn't it? (Surely that doesn't just pertain to me?) 
Thankfully, some of the power we give to other people we start to take back when we reach a certain point in our lives. For me, it started when I was in my late 40's. Until then, I had been far too wrapped up in fear of "What will others say or think if I do this or that?" The irony is that other people are going to say or do whatever they say or do regardless of my actions. Worrying about it does not change that fact. And when you let other people get inside your head like that, you give away your power. Don't do that!
3) Don't compare yourself to other people. We live in a constant state of comparison with others until we make the conscious decision not to. The trouble with comparing yourself to other people is that it can lead you to feel that you somehow come up short. This is what makes us watch TV shows like the "Housewives of New Jersey" or "Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous." Comparing yourself to others--even people who are close to you--doesn't serve you or them.
Learn to know what YOU want without considering how it might stack up with your neighbors. We need to discard the whole "keeping up with the Joneses'" thing. And that includes envying people who seem to be living it up on Facebook. You only see what they want you to see. Okay, maybe they are vacationing in a beautiful, exotic location. What you may not know is that they took the trip to save their crumbling marriage. Or they went into a ton of debt to get there. Or they are dealing with some other challenge they aren't sharing on Facebook. No one knows what is really going on with other people. Comparing yourself to them only makes you feel bad...for no good reason.
4) Consider all the positive lessons to be learned from any perceived setback. If we never made mistakes, how would we ever learn anything? Richard Branson has said, "My mother always taught me never to look back in regret but to move on to the next thing. The amount of time people waste dwelling on failures rather than putting that energy into another project always amazes me. I have fun running all the Virgin businesses--so a setback is never a bad experience, just a learning curve." How wise a woman was Branson's mom that she taught him that at an early age? The fact is that we learn more from our failures than we do from my actual successes. Recognizing this truth requires that you set a positive intention for yourself from the beginning. No matter how things turn out, you must be willing to see the good in everything and consider it all as a learning experience, no matter what.
5) Remember that life is a journey, not a destination. Mark Twain said, "Twenty years from now, you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover." Ralph Waldo Emerson is the one who wrote that "Life is a journey, not a destination."
Our lives are made up of millions of moments and hundreds of thousands of experiences. They are unique and distinct from one another. Ultimately we each get to choose how to live our lives.
Life is a journey
During my session with the success coach I mentioned earlier, I learned something that surprised me. We all have "default settings." Our defaults are the result of our view of the world. When things don't go our way, many people default into a blaming mode. They believe their disappointment or failure must be someone else's fault. They blame others when things don't go the way we thought they would. If they can't find someone else to blame, then we turn the blame inward on ourselves which is equally as bad. Blaming ourselves for things that didn't turn out the way we wanted is hardly productive. Apathy is also dangerous because it keeps us stuck. We become convinced that there is nothing we can do to change things for the better...and we stay put. We experience an endless cycle of blame, guilt, and apathy. As a result, when things don't improve, we continue the cycle and experience misery instead of joy.
I learned a long time ago that we always have a choice in the matter of our lives in every single moment. WE are responsible for how things go every day. Even if we don't have direct control over specific events, we have control over how we experience them. We can choose to look for the "silver lining" and the lesson to be learned. Or we can default to "Woe is me, nothing ever works out for me, and here is more proof of it."
So, how do you handle setbacks in your life? How do you perceive the "lessons" that life has to teach you? Are they punishments? Or are they milestones along the way of life that is lived in all its complexity and nuance? You get to choose. I offer a friendly challenge. Choose well.


Until next time.



I have just released a new evergreen webinar presentation that I would like to ask you to share with any of your friends, family members or colleagues (and of course, you can watch it, too) who may be interested in how to start a new job search or how to initiate a career change. This presentation is based on a live presentation I have been offering as well as a University of Virginia Career Alumni Center webinar I presented last month. There is nothing to buy, but if you stick around until the end of the presentation (about an hour), you will be offered a gift AND an opportunity to sign up for a no-obligation 20-minute strategy session

If you aren't interested, feel free to share widely with those in your circle who might be. It is an information-packed hour of my best advice, tips, and strategies on how to get started on that job change you have been wanting but didn't know how to kickstart.

The link to register is here:

Let me know if you have any questions about it.

Vanessa Jackson
Phoenix Rising Coaching
1541 Flaming Oak
New Braunfels Texas 78132
United States of America