Learning from setbacks
The ability to learn from failure and disappointment is a key to a happy and rewarding life. That’s because setbacks are normal, especially when you are continually being challenged in many areas -- at home, at work, or in your community -- and trying to improve in any of them. “Any quest, even one that is ultimately successful, is going to involve failure,” Chip Heath and Dan Heath write in their book Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard. If you can learn from the setbacks, you’ll be able to move forward.
- Think carefully about what happened after a big disappointment. Ask yourself what you did right, not just what you may have done wrong. This will help you see strengths you can build on as well as where you could improve.
- Think about the information you received from others who were involved, too. If you were passed over for a promotion, did your employer want skills you didn’t have? Which ones? Talk with your manager if you aren’t sure. Having accurate information will help you decide how to make yourself more valuable to employers.
- Write down what you learned. That will help you remember the lessons as you move forward.
Moving forward after failure and disappointment
Here are some other ways to make progress after a setback:
- “Follow the bright spots.” Have a positive attitude toward what you can accomplish. Chip Heath and Dan Heath call this approach following “the bright spots” in Switch. “As you analyze your situation, you’re sure to find some things working better than others,” they say. “Don’t obsess about the failures.” Spend time analyzing your successes and how you can repeat or build on them.
- Seek new challenges. Don’t let the fear of another disappointment keep you from exploring opportunities for success. Chip Heath and Dan Heath suggest that you look for “more challenges despite the risk of failure.” If you were passed over for a promotion, “seek out ‘stretch’ assignments at work.” Even if you didn’t get the job you wanted, you may have many ways to grow in the job you have.
- Tap into your support network. Talk about your setback with people who care about you and who want to help. They may give you a fresh perspective on what happened. Join a support group if you need more help. You might look into the groups run by Debtors Anonymous if a business failure left you in debt, Parents Without Partners if you are single parent disappointed by the end of a marriage, or into national organizations devoted to illnesses if medical treatments haven’t had the results you hoped.
- Take care of your physical and emotional health. Take extra care to eat a healthy diet, get enough sleep, exercise on all or most days of the week, and limit alcohol consumption. Do something enjoyable every day with friends or family.
- Seek professional help if the situation feels unmanageable. The pain of failure usually eases over time. But if a disappointment is affecting your work or relationships, talking with a counselor can help. Your doctor can give you a referral, and your employee assistance program (EAP) can provide information and resources.
As you move forward, be patient with yourself. Keep in mind these words from Switch: “Progress doesn’t always come easily -- achieving success requires some failures along the way.”