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How to Turn a Setback Into a Success

No one likes setbacks. Even people who seem really good at overcoming them aren’t as okay with having setbacks. Despite the fact that these people don’t like to show it, they too become deeply affected by setbacks. They just wallow in private before putting on a good show and moving on. Thomas Edison responded to 10,000 setbacks with his famous "I haven’t failed, I’ve just found 10,000 ways that don’t work”, and then he went on to become known for his great invention.

See Also: How Your Brain Reacts to Setbacks

Why? Because he turned those setbacks into lessons, and finally found his way to success. Each time he got it wrong, he figured out why it had gone wrong, adjusted his approach and got it wrong in a bunch of different other ways until he finally found the tweak that was right. Whether you refer to it as getting back on the horse, standing up when you fall, turning lemons into lemonade or just straightforward resilience, the most important thing to remember is that you have to keep going. A setback should be temporary, or else it’s a death blow that sends you into a spiral of feeling useless and results into you giving up.


No one’s expecting you to look forward to setbacks and to be able to laugh them off; they’re as disheartening as they are inevitable. However, what you do need to learn is to limit your self-pity to no more than a couple of days before you get to work analysing what went wrong and heading for your better future. Here’s how:

1. Adopt a Growth Mindset

Those with a fixed mindset believe that natural talent is what’s most important, and that if you don’t have talent then no amount of effort can help you succeed. You can see why that doesn’t do them any favours when it comes to dealing with a setback, can’t you?

Which is exactly why it’s better to develop a growth mindset. If you have a growth mindset then you know that we’re always learning, and you believe that talents can be cultivated through effort. When you face a setback, you see it as a challenge and an opportunity to progress. You see your setback as feedback on what they’re doing wrong and what you need to change to do better.

Talent is a good start, but with effort you can learn to do anything. If we were supposed to rely purely on our talents, then we wouldn’t need to bother with university or internships because we would automatically be great at whatever we do; that just isn’t how things work. A fixed mindset is a sure path to feeling like a failure, and the only person you’re hurting by not trying harder is yourself.

2. Imagine a Different Future

As soon as we suffer a setback, we tend to dwell on it and start imagining all the horrible results of it: we’re terrible at our job, we’ll get fired, we’re never going to find another job, we’ll run out of money and end up living on the streets. Stop! A setback is an obstacle, or hurdle, or speed bump: something that inevitably slows you down for a moment but one that you need to get over and put behind you.

Rather than dwelling on what went wrong, focus on what happened and what you want to change in the future. First, ask yourself where you want to be in five years, then go a step further and actually work out a plan for getting there - that’s what you want, now how are you going to make it happen?

Once you learn to accept that setbacks are always going to happen, you can learn to thrive when they do. Instead of focusing on the negative, you’ll learn to take that negative and shape it into something positive that will work towards making you the person that you want to be with all your currently "insurmountable" problems solved.

3. Redefine Success

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So, you temporarily failed at what you were doing. Here’s an interesting fact: just about everything can be done in a million different ways. So why would you let one particular method of reaching your goals set you on the path to thinking your goals are unattainable?

Just like Thomas Edison, you need to change your approach. Your end goal might be a great one to strive for, but maybe you need to break it down into smaller goals; not only are smaller goals easier to achieve, but those achievements will help encourage you to keep going until you accomplish the larger goal. It’s important to put things into perspective and see that you need to fix that one element before you can make your working lightbulb - to focus on creating a legacy so great that no one cares about the setbacks.

4. Turn It Into an Advantage

Think about it. If you hadn’t had this setback, you wouldn’t have this new information on how to do better, and you wouldn’t be as strong as you now are for overcoming it. If anything, it’s done you a favour. It’s only a setback if you call it that, and it only makes you bitter if you choose to get bitter rather than see it as an opportunity for improvement.

Overcome your fear of failure by embracing your setbacks and figuring out how to benefit from them: stay calm, retain your confidence and ask yourself what you can learn to do better. How can you use this as a learning experience to adjust your goals? Remember the bigger picture and create a new path towards it: that bigger picture is the ultimate career goal you’re aiming for, and setbacks are just potholes on the way towards it. They might force you onto a different path, but they don’t change the destination.

5. Be Honest

You can’t learn from a setback if you try to ignore it or hide it, can you? Others can’t help you fix your mistakes if you don’t own up to them and warn them that you’ve just done something that’s going to have an impact on them, can they? It might be difficult to admit when you’ve done something wrong, but people will find it easier to forgive and respect you if they see you’re being honest about it and you’re prepared to do what you can to fix it; most problems grow when we try to ignore them.

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When reporting a setback to your boss, or talking about it the next time an interviewer asks about a time you made a mistake, don’t be afraid to showcase it as a lesson you learned in doing something wrong and learning how to do it right. It’s more important that you know what went wrong and that you know what you should have done differently.

See Also: Why Retail Therapy won’t Help us Overcome Setbacks at Work

No one likes rain, but it’s inevitable, so we buy umbrellas and coats and boots to help us deal with it. Similarly, setbacks are inevitable, so we have to learn how to see them as opportunities and create the appropriate armour to help us deal with them. Everyone deals with setbacks differently, but the one thing to remember is that everyone has them: it’s up to you to make sure you’re one of the many who overcome them.

How do you handle setbacks? Do you have any more advice to give to others suffering a setback? Let us know in the comments section below.