10 September 2019

How setbacks can make you a winner

Have you ever felt like things just weren’t going your way? That even though you did your best during an interview or worked hard on a project, you didn’t get the desired results?

If you’ve answered “Yes!” to these questions, here’s the good news – encountering setbacks might help you advance your career in the long run.

Exceptional achievers suffer setbacks early on

According to Ian Leslie in his BBC article “Why suffering setbacks could make you more successful,” a recent study in the U.K. investigated the roots of athletic success by conducting interviews with more than 80 coaches and elite athletes. It found that although most athletes encounter one or more setbacks early on in their careers, those who leveraged the failure as motivation eventually became exceptional achievers.

A related study from the University of Virginia found that Olympic silver medallists went on to become more successful in their post-athletic careers than gold medallists. Moreover, they lived longer. And other studies that don’t focus on sports have shown that many high achievers — including three of the four members of The Beatles — suffered setbacks early in life.

One explanation for this phenomenon could be that high achievers find a way to transform trauma into motivation. And in the long run, this motivation drives them to achieve more and more. 

Tips for overcoming setbacks

So how can you leverage setbacks to help you perform better and achieve more in your career? Keep these tips in mind:

  • Expect failures. If you’re working towards something that’s more challenging than anything you’ve ever done so far, you can’t expect to get it right the first time. Maybe it will take two tries, or three. Simply accept the setbacks as part of the process, and don’t let them knock you off course.
  • Surround yourself with supporters. In the CNBC article “Most people probably would have stopped — 8 tips on overcoming even the most crippling setbacks,” Thomas Carter advises spending time with people who believe in you and who’ll encourage you.
  • Analyse the setback objectively. Put your disappointment aside and determine why you failed. Did you possess sufficient skill or knowledge? Did you have the right tools? Look for concrete factors you can change in the future.
  • Learn what you need to. In her Success article “8 Ways Successful People Overcome Setbacks,” Patti Johnson recommends that you need to invest time in acquiring the skills and/or knowledge you need in order to achieve your goals in the future. For example, if you want a promotion, find out what skills you need to acquire and start working on them.
Failing forward

According to the author C.S. Lewis, “One fails forward toward success.” In other words, setbacks and failures don’t have to be final — so long as you learn from them and become more motivated than ever before to succeed.