Why setbacks are nothing but progress-checkers

Feb 17, 2017

So, you’ve had a setback. Didn’t get that job, wasn’t shortlisted for interview. Good. Here’s what to do next.

Looking for a job, especially your first graduate job, presents plenty of opportunity for setbacks and disappointments, but it isn’t all bad.

Setbacks check our progress. That’s all they do. If we view them this way we will not read them as failures.

When we face a setback we often feel deflated. We lose confidence and motivation. We can feel discouraged and even quit.

This is where our level of emotional intelligence kicks in. it determines both what we do next and how quickly we act.

The first thing we need to remind ourselves is that to feel disappointment is normal. Whatever it is we were hoping for has received a knock-back which, says the Cambridge Dictionary, is defined as either ‘a force or action of one object hitting another’ or ‘a powerful effect that something has on a situation or person’.

So, if you felt the ‘personal impact’, good. It means you’re alive.

What to do after a setback

US psychologist Hendrie Weisinger says that when we receive a personal setback we must go through seven sequential steps to recover and move on. If we fail to do so we can remain stuck in one area or reverberate between two or more without moving forward.

The seven steps are:

  1. Disbelief – ‘I can’t believe I’ve been turned down.’
  2. Anger – ‘Those people are idiots.’
  3. Wishful thinking – ‘If only I answered that question differently.’
  4. Depression – ‘I feel so discouraged, it never works out for me.’
  5. Acceptance – ‘Okay, I didn’t get that job.’
  6. New hope – ‘I will continue to try, there are other jobs.’
  7. Positive activity – ‘I will apply for these jobs.’

Your Comeback Toolkit

Weisinger says we should make use of the Comeback Toolkit, a set of responses that help guide our next steps and develop our emotional intelligence.

You should:

Tune into your feelings – accept, ‘I feel disappointed, but that’s ok.’

Use motivational statements – ‘I am smart and so will eventually get a job.’

Keep a sense of humour – ‘That answer I gave was really crap!’

Practise relaxation – ‘I’ll take the evening off and hang out with my mates.’

Use problem solving techniques – ‘Now, where can I find the answers I didn’t know?’

Draw support – ‘I’ll practise my interview techniques with my friend.’

Reassess and set new goals – ‘That position was right/not right for me. Here’s what I’ll do…’

Resilience is not an option

Resilience is not an option. It’s not a case of do I need it or not. We all need to have resilience and as I said earlier, setbacks come to test our progress in acquiring and developing one skill or another.

Many organisations offer training in resilience techniques because they recognise how vital it is to job success: imagine the huge staff turnover companies would face if people simply quit. You need resilience especially if you are ambitious and aspire to a leadership role. You will never survive as a leader without resilience.

Sports professionals and their coaches study for hours to discover how athletes can learn to perform better after suffering defeat. Like work, competitive sport is riddled with plenty of opportunity for so-called failure but it is the athlete that studies what happened who learns from it, performs better and eventually wins. We don’t hear much about those who fail and never get up and try again for obvious reasons.

Resilience is the ability to get through, over and past trials, traumas and setbacks. Instead of asking, ‘Why did this happen to me’, ask ‘How can I use this to help me move forward?’ That way, you will develop the elasticity to spring back after being stretched.

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