Overcome a setback like a boss: Five steps of dealing with setbacks

Recent research has shown that hard workers are more inspiring than geniuses. Those who are resilient enough to face setbacks and overcome them work hard at their success and are more inspiring than those who seem to possess some sort of innate talent. This may be news to you, as the cultural narrative around success is often that it is a set, fixed goal, rather than a journey with ups and downs along the way, but more recent research has suggested that viewing our achievements as part of a journey helps to maintain success, rather than ticking boxes or completing fixed goals. That is why learning how to overcome setbacks is important.

If we anticipate setbacks, acknowledge them, stop blaming ourselves for them, and allow time for us to step out of our comfort zones, we can see our professional success as part of a journey, which should help to maintain it. Let’s take a look at what a setback is, before moving on to a step-by-step approach for how to deal with setbacks.

What is a setback?

Setbacks can appear in life in so many different forms. In our personal life, they may manifest as financial or health and wellbeing problems, relationship issues, or personal loss. In professional environments, setbacks include not getting a job or promotion that you wanted, not securing a contract with a new client, or simply getting feedback that you find difficult to work with. The umbrella term “setback” is difficult to do justice to in a short article, and for this reason we will look only at setbacks in the business world.

If you’re wondering how to deal with setbacks, it’s likely you’ve already experienced one. Perhaps you’re reflecting on how you’ve previously handled a setback, or you’re in the midst of coping with one now. In jobs in which you might feel like you’re in the minority, it can be difficult to address the nuance of what the setback is in your situation, and why it came about. Women in tech are sure to recognize the highs and lows of their profession, with all the setbacks and advantages that their careers bring. Knowing how to deal with setbacks is the first step to personal professional improvement. Setbacks often get framed as mistakes and dealing with mistakes at work, or a culture of good constructive criticism is still a challenge in most workplaces. Knowing how to overcome a setback on a personal level is helpful for any professional environment, and if you run your own business, you may be able to apply this on a corporate level too.

How to overcome a setback

A setback is, for the purposes of this article, an event in your professional life that thwarts plans you may have made for your business, or disrupts how you were expecting to be able to work. As mentioned, this can be several different things, but an unexpected dismissal or loss of a client can be particularly difficult to deal with. We’ll outline the five stages of overcoming a setback here.

Step 1: Expect setbacks

Setbacks are normal, and everyone faces them. Some people may have to face bigger setbacks than others, but it is part of the human experience to see things not go to plan. This may be one of the most reassuring things to hear if you’re prone to experiencing imposter syndrome where you feel as if everyone else is far more qualified than you, or that you’re simply out of place in your professional environment. Knowing that everyone experiences setbacks is a good foundation to understanding that whilst a setback, when it happens, may not be welcome, it is something everyone can expect to happen in their career.

Step 2: Acknowledgement

In the same way that we have to learn to expect setbacks in our working lives, when they do happen, it can be detrimental to try and deny that they’ve happened. Communicating with your boss or your colleagues during a performance review is a great way to acknowledge things that haven’t gone to plan, and why performance might not be at the required level. Look at the setback head-on, and this will enable you to start dealing with it honestly and productively.

Step 3: Don’t play a blame game

If you or your company experience a setback, you’ll likely want to know where things went “wrong”. This can be a difficult thing to do, especially if there are a few people involved in the setback. One thing to try and avoid is shifting blame between people. Not only will this kill off any good employee motivation but it won’t usually help overcome the setback. There is a difference between understanding what has happened and what needs improvement and blaming yourself or someone else for that. Blame isn’t the key to a good working environment.

Step 4: Time heals all ails

All things are temporary. Even if it feels like you’re caught in the middle of a PR nightmare things will metaphorically blow over and you’ll be able to calmly brush yourself off and pick up the pieces. It is never pleasant to have to deal with a setback, but if you address things with sincerity and honesty, you should be able to overcome the setback you face in some manner.

Step 5: Get out of your comfort zone

Overcoming a setback may involve making some difficult decisions. Balancing holding people accountable for their actions and not playing a blame game will take you out of your comfort zone and will require you to master good professional communication. These things take time and practice, but you’ll get there so much faster by pushing yourself, working hard and getting out of your comfort zone.

Conclusion: Overcoming a setback

Expecting and recognizing setbacks are the first important steps to dealing with setbacks. When you realize that you’re experiencing a setback, keep on looking forward. Don’t blame anyone for your setback but rather try to understand which circumstances caused it. So you’ll be more prepared if it happens again. Don’t waste your time regretting things you can’t change anymore. Put your energy into working hard and try something new by getting out of your comfort zone!

If we reflect to what was mentioned in the introduction of this article, hard work is more inspiring than innate talent, and only through hard work can you get out of your comfort zone. Sustainable success has been shown in research to be built on framing your professional success as a journey – with all the setbacks and successes that come along with that.

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