How to handle setbacks

Defeatphoto © 2007 Juan Barahona | more info (via: Wylio)
Almost everyone finds setbacks hard to handle when they are young. I had a few that felt like they took the life out of me. I vividly remember my rejections by the Indian Army. I badly wanted to be in the army. I could think of no other place I could be in. I thought they will never have a better officer than me. I thought I was quite fit, I felt a lot for my country, etc, etc…. They rejected me, 4 times. I felt my heart crushed, every time.

When we try hard for something and don’t get it, we feel heart broken and dejected, we feel no enthusiasm at all to do anything further. Life may seem to loose all its meaning and we may ask why even to continue with such a bad life. There are so many around us enjoying life, that we start questioning why is all this bad happening to me only.

I think, as bad and unavoidable these situations may seem, there are ways to move out of them, even to gain something from them. There is a life of happiness possible, even after the worst setbacks. You may not feel so when you have just had one and all seems to be over for you, but there are others who have come back from big setbacks in their lives to find even more happiness than before. You can do it too.

1. You know inside it is never over. When you were a kid, breaking a rule might have brought a sense of dread on you. You must have felt as if this was the end of things for you. You shuddered at the thought of how your parents would take it, when they found out. But you lived through it, every time. There were some bad experiences, but you always got out of it and went on. As we grow up, we sometimes forget the lessons we should have learnt as kids. No situation is the end of your world, no matter how bad it seems. You will get past this, and others, and you will always find greater happiness if you stick it through.

2. Look for the lesson life is trying to teach you. Look for the lesson in the situation. It may seem difficult and you may have the least intention to do it but this is important. If you don’t want to go through the same experience again, learn the lessons life is teaching you through this situation.

3. Discover yourself in the situation. It is in bad times that your deeper layers are revealed to you. When there is no escape, you are forced to face and acknowledge those parts in you that you want to avoid. This is very useful knowledge. Having knowledge of yourself, your strengths, you weaknesses, is power in itself. What’s more, you may find new directions through those very qualities that you were avoiding!

I was once shown out of a project because the manager felt ‘I did not have it in me to work long hours and weekends for the benefit of the project’. I realized I could do intense, focused work for a few hours only, beyond that, I found it difficult to work. I had seen others sit for more hours but I could not do it. This was also because I believed my personal time is my own and didn’t want my office work to encroach upon that. Needless to say it was a bad experience. When I got through in other companies, I found there was nothing wrong with the way I thought and worked. There are others who like to do focused work for a few hours and then leave. A lot of people consider their personal time sacrosanct and like to work only regular hours. I enjoyed more in my later projects and am happy for the fact that I learnt valuable things about myself, through that setback.

4. Decide the next action step. Look for the next step you can take that leads out of the situation. Try to see things objectively. Use journal writing to come up with ideas. Once you decide on an action, get busy executing it. Don’t spend too much time thinking, don’t be stuck in ‘paralysis of analysis’. If you can’t decide on the right thing to do, just go ahead and do the best you can think off. Once you have something to do, you feel more in control. Also, you have something to focus your mind and energies on, rather than allowing it to slip into depression.

5. Keep yourself in uplifting company. Try to keep yourself in the company of people who can give you good advice and motivate you to move out of the depression. The right company can play a crucial role in your comeback.

Set backs are not really as bad as people make them out to be. They are a necessary part of growth and if we turn away from them to invite security , we are turning away from growth to invite stagnation, boredom and aimlessness. The pupa of a butterfly has to struggle a lot to get out of its cocoon. If you try to help it by breaking the cocoon, the pupa actually dies. The struggle is nature’s way of strengthening the insect’s muscles. If we take that away, we have prevented it from getting strong enough to spread its wings and expand into its true, beautiful self. Imagine what we do to ourselves when we shy away from our own struggles.


  • Jyoti
    November 26, 2010 - 9:52 am | Permalink

    Well written article and nice examples :). I am happy that your articles are reminding all of us, of the very basic things which we have forgotten. Life and experience offers so much to learn from…….our attitude towards things can really change the way we look at things. Keep up the good work. :)

    • Rahul
      November 27, 2010 - 8:40 pm | Permalink

      I am glad it is of help. We need to keep reminding ourselves of the goodness, otherwise it is easy to slip down to a point where life starts looking bleak and burdensome. Thanks for visiting.

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