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dealing with setbacks in life

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Facing a setback is always painful. When you put in X amount of effort you except Y or Z results. When you do all of the right things, whatever that means for you, you don’t feel that you deserve some total wrecking ball coming in out of nowhere and shattering all of your hard work. But, that is going to happen sometimes. If you plan on a lifetime of pursuing your dreams then, sometimes, there will be hurdles that feel very unfair. I imagine the COVID-19 pandemic felt like a huge setback for many – and one that nobody did anything to deserve. Think of all of the people who were on the brink of greatness at the start of 2020, who had everything they were looking forward to canceled. Maybe for a few years. Maybe forever. But you know what makes someone truly great? It’s not a lack of setbacks, because if you study anyone really impressive, you’ll learn that they had plenty of those. What makes someone truly great is how they deal with setbacks. That’s what sets the haves and the have-nots apart. Setbacks are inevitable. Setbacks are things you almost cannot control. What you can control is how you respond to them, and that’s what will determine your success. Here are healthy and unhealthy ways to deal with setbacks.

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Find fault in those in charge

The judges who didn’t give you first place. The boss who didn’t promote you. The company who didn’t hire you. The publisher who didn’t buy your book. You just start digging into their flaws. You start tearing them apart – maybe to their faces, maybe to yourself or to anyone who will listen. You seek reasons they are inherently dumb and broken, and why their decision was a mistake.

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Instead, consider their perspective

You won’t get far judging the powers that be. They’re still the powers that be. In fact, they got there for a reason: they actually do know what they’re talking about. Instead of looking for their flaws, put yourself in their shoes. Consider why they made the choice they did. Hey, if you can, ask them. They’ll respect that you’re open to feedback.

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Chastise the winner

Maybe you didn’t just not get what you wanted, but someone else did. That can sting. So you start tearing them apart. You start looking into everything they’ve ever done and finding fault with them – finding reasons they are actually very incompetent and ridiculous and inadequate. For a moment, it makes you feel better to discover why they aren’t perfect.

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Instead, study her

You won’t get too far finding fault with the person who got what you wanted. In fact, you’ll probably feel silly and immature after (because that’s what you’ve been). You’re better off studying that person. She won for a reason. Instead of looking for what’s wrong in her work, look for what’s right about it. That’s clearly what the powers that be noticed.

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Deciding you are permanently inadequate

You may go home and tell yourself that you’re not good enough, and that’s that. You aren’t funny. You aren’t smart. You aren’t talented. You aren’t attractive. Whatever it might be – the quality you were trying to prove in this pursuit – you tell yourself that you just don’t have it, and there’s nothing you can do about it. This was the test, and you failed.

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Actually, you have limitless potential

You actually have limitless potential. That’s the great thing about setbacks: they actually show us we still have further to go. But they don’t say we’ll never get there. They just serve as useful measuring sticks for where we’re currently at. Instead of saying, “I don’t have what it takes” say “I don’t have what it takes yet. But I will.”

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Hanging with someone you feel is less-than

Some seek someone out who they believe is less than them – someone they see as beneath them or behind them – after a setback. It boosts the ego to be around someone who you can look down at. When comparing yourself to someone who did better than you hurts too much, there can be an unhealthy pleasure in comparing yourself to someone who isn’t quite where you’re at.

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Seek out those who push you

Only spending time with those who aren’t yet as successful as you, in order to boost your ego, is a downward spiral. That’s a sinking ship. When you do that, you only find reasons to do less and to stop growing. Hang out with those who are ahead of you, so you’ll feel inspired to grow and challenge yourself.

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Trying to take down the whole thing

Some people get so upset after a setback that their instinct is just to burn the entire institution that rejected them. Usually just figuratively, but sometimes literally. Maybe a publication rejected your book, so you look to find the skeletons in the closet of those in charge there, and to reveal the business for all of its dirty laundry. You want to ruin them, as they’ve ruined your ego.

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You’ll regret that

So, unfortunately, one day, you’ll still want to work in that industry. You’ll still want that publishing house or company or person – whatever it is – to consider giving you an opportunity. And the chances of that will be forever ruined if you actively sought to destroy them. Don’t burn bridges you may hope to still cross at a later time. And know people talk. If you tried to destroy any person or company in your industry, everyone will know about it.

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Indulging in vices

You go get raging drunk. Or go on a multi-thousand-dollar shopping spree. You go gambling. You have sex with an ex. Or you take up smoking again. You binge eat. You give into your impulsions to do something unhealthy. Maybe you tell yourself that you deserve it, because you’ve worked hard and been in control for so long, that now it’s time to let go of control.

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Indulge in a book or podcast

If you get drunk/gamble/shop/sleep with an ex/binge eat, you’ll just wind up hungover, broke, nauseous, and worried about STDs. And you still won’t have the thing (the job? The promotion? The recognition?) that drove you to that vice. If you want to indulge in something after a setback, because you’re too tired to work more for the day, indulge in a book or podcast that will further educate you on your endeavors.

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Punishing yourself

You starve yourself. Or you go home and say mean things to yourself. You cancel your vacation or fun plans you were looking forward to. You don’t feel that you deserve to enjoy yourself now, because you didn’t win this time around. This could be leftover behavior from your childhood, if your parents punished you when you got Bs instead of As or second place instead of first place.

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No, no: educate yourself

Don’t punish yourself. You didn’t do anything bad intentionally. In fact, you did well! You tried. You put yourself out there. For that, you should be rewarded. Not with alcohol, shopping, binge-eating etc…but with the opportunity to try again. So, educate yourself. Study. Learn more. Treat yourself to an online course that will make you more prepared for next time.

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Doing something easier

Maybe you just want to downgrade your goals. You want to try something easier. You feel that this is the surefire way to avoid disappointment. Sure, you wanted to be a manager, but you’ll just apply for jobs as an assistant. Those will be easy to get, and that will feel good.

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No. Keep pushing.

If you start only going after the easier thing, to make sure you get it, then your life will become smaller, your successes will become tinier, and you’ll become depressed and frightened to ever try anything again. Look this setback in the face, and charge right past it. Don’t see it as a reason to turn around. See it as a reason to gather more tools, before you continue moving forward.

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