Face Disappointment Fully to Pave New Path and Choose Resilience
Everyone is knocked down, disappointed, frustrated and faces failure; it’s frankly a prerequisite to ongoing growth and success. When you accept that setbacks are a normal part of the process, you realize that planning for the future and pursuing your goals must also include planning for how to deal with defeat.
“You have to have a personal philosophy that you develop about how to deal with setbacks that goes right to the core of your resilience, your capability to keep going despite disappointment,” advises former Senator and Secretary of State, Hilary Rodham Clinton, in her Master Class on resilience.
Learning how to move through adversity can enable you to emerge from defeat stronger, with new insights, greater self-understanding, a deeper sense of purpose, and more compassion for yourself and others.
Plan to fail
Of course, you work hard, hone your skills and put robust plans in place to meet your goals, not miss them. But acknowledging the potential for setbacks in both personal and professional endeavors is not being negative; it’s recognizing that any time you try something new, there can be hiccups. “Failure is part of the fabric of ambition and effort,” Clinton asserts. “Therefore, it has to be factored into your resilience and capability to get back up and keep going.”
You will increase your ability to recover and learn from setbacks more quickly if you anticipate them and develop specific strategies to reset. Consider these techniques as a starting point.
- Consider prior setbacks and failures. Chances are this is not your first encounter with disappointment. Think back through your life from childhood onward to explore times you felt defeated, dejected, embarrassed or rejected. What enabled you to move beyond those feelings and start over? What character traits and skillsets helped or hampered your ability to bounce back? And, what benefits ultimately came out of that challenging time that made you stronger?
- Feel the pain. When things don’t go well, it’s tempting to block out those negative feelings, quickly move on to something else or even blame others. It usually doesn’t work and it robs you of the opportunity to glean critical learnings from the experience. Use these moments instead to take stock and consider how your actions may have contributed to the setback, what you’ve learned that you might apply moving forward or even simply to take time to give yourself grace. “Don’t be the victim of the setback,” Clinton advises. “Be the agent of your own life in trying to understand what happened.”
- Take a breather from the fear and discomfort. While you don’t want to avoid tough feelings, you can’t wallow in them either. Take moments away from battling back from failure by engaging in activities that are easy, comfortable and that don’t rest on a win-lose dynamic. That could mean engaging in a hobby like crafting, journaling or listening to music; getting together with friends to watch a comedy; walking your dog or gardening. It will also help if you address the basics like eating well, getting enough sleep and exercising.
- Develop a Plan B. Now you know at least one approach to your goal that doesn’t work, or at least didn’t work this time. But perhaps there’s a way to tweak your approach and still get to the outcome you desire. Or maybe you can achieve part of what you wanted. You may not have won the contract with a major corporation, but you might still get your foot in the door and become a Tier 2 supplier. Perhaps the promotion you expected went to someone else, but you may be able to negotiate for greater involvement in a part of the business where you want to grow. Seek out and create alternative paths that will help you achieve as much of your goal as possible.
- Ask for help. Maybe the project, or a major part of it, can be salvaged if you can simply get more hands-on deck or an expert to troubleshoot major issues. A trusted mentor may be able to help you look at areas where you need to develop so that you will be ready for the next promotion. Look to your network to help you better understand where things went wrong, possibly pull success out of the rubble, or strategize for a bigger win down the road.
- Keep daring to try. A surefire way to avoid failure is to avoid trying. Unfortunately, that leaves no room for growth either. Women especially can sometimes shy away from getting in the game for fear of failure, and research shows we are often more heavily penalized for failure. One way to develop the stomach for setbacks is to practice dealing with them more often. Take small steps on a regular basis that push you out of your comfort zone and that could result in small failures. That might be as simple as trying a new exercise class that could result in embarrassment and sore muscles, signing up for training in an area of professional weakness, or committing to making at least one cold call per day to a potential new (and intimidating) customer.
Failure isn’t easy for anyone, but you will always be in good company when at first you don’t succeed. As Thasunda Brown Duckett, President and CEO of TIAA, and one of only two Black women currently serving as Fortune 500 CEOs, said in an interview with Stanford University, “Progress is not going in a straight line. It goes up and down, but it’s progress all the same.”