We all have Setbacks

Arowora Motunrola
6 min readFeb 28, 2022

I thought about when I was just a few short years ago when I lost all my savings after working 60 hours a week and saving up for a year. Ultimately, I was left pretty much broke and with no clue what I was going to do, wondering where I was going to go from there. How was I going to support myself? But I got through it — and came out stronger and happier than ever. Why?

Ramping off from a setback | wenmei Zhou | Getty Images

I also thought about something that I went through recently when life punched me in the mouth. A few months before I was supposed to write my exams, I learned that my mom had passed away. I was completely devastated, yet I still wrote that exam. Why?

Then I thought about all the amazing people I’ve met in my life who have been through unbelievably difficult circumstances and not only made it through them but found a way to turn them into something positive.

Finally, I thought of the flipside — those times I was met with a defeat and did nothing. I coward. I crumbled. I didn’t learn from it — and the many people I know have done the same. Why and what was the difference?

Although setbacks, roadblocks, and defeats are all obstacles standing between where you are now and where you want to be, each one represents a different level of challenge. The good news is, no matter which of them you face — you don’t have to raise your hand and surrender. Think about how you respond to these different types of obstacles: what’s your normal reaction.

When faced with a career-related obstacle, some people cast blame. They point to all the reasons or circumstances that “put” them where they are. If this is you, you might tell yourself (and probably everyone else) how the reason you got in trouble is that “My boss is a real jerk!” or that you wouldn’t have lost that promotion “if only my cat hadn’t climbed that tree, making me late for work–again.”
Another normal response to a setback, roadblock, or defeat is anger like you’ve just been unjustly convicted of a crime you didn’t commit. You might feel a little frustrated or sad because you let yourself (and your employer or client) down, or because you’re not quite where you wanted to be at this point in your life. And depending on the size of the consequence you face, you might also be a little (or a lot) scared about what lies ahead.

While all of these responses are “normal,” if this is how you react, you are actually hurting yourself. While it’s understandable to feel frustrated, sad, angry and scared when dealing with a career-related obstacle, these types of “normal” responses present an issue–a huge one, in fact. None of these negative reactions, feelings, or responses will help you get wherever it is you want to go. Worse yet, they can even stop you dead in your tracks.

Is this how you feel? Like you’re just spinning in circles and unsure how to get out of the turmoil so you can start to move forward again? If so, here’s something important to remember. Every successful person, the ones we tend to look to for inspiration in our own lives, has faced their fair share of setbacks before, during, and after achieving something great.

Steve Jobs’s story is well-known. He co-founded Apple (which was Macintosh at the time) at the age of 21, becoming a millionaire within two short years. A few years after that, after disagreeing with the company’s cofounder, the board decided to remove him from his position at Apple, essentially firing him from the company he helped create. This led to a midlife crisis in which Jobs thought of all his other career options, which led him to create two more successful companies (NeXT and Pixar) before returning to Apple, which was floundering after he left. So even though he once found himself without a job, he was able to turn things around and lead Apple to its position as a leading global tech firm.

The point is that you, too, can overcome whatever obstacles are in your way. And you can even find yourself in a better place. All you have to do is develop the right strategies. But first, you need to realize something very important, “no one gets better in a straight line.” Overcoming your struggles is an up-and-down battle–lots of ups and downs. But you need both the peaks and the valleys to keep moving forward. The ups remind you where you want to go, and the downs push you to get there.

They have many names: missteps, monkey wrenches, unforeseen circumstances. But setbacks are ever-present on our journey to becoming a better person. We have all experienced a slow in progress, hindrance, or delay on our journey. The challenge is understanding why the delay happened. What caused our progress to slow down or plateau? You can intellectually know all the right things to do or say, but there are those moments when your humanness gets the best of you. Despite your best efforts to be a better person, you suddenly do or say something you regret. Perhaps you react in a negative way or out of alignment with your desire to become a better person. IT’S OKAY! Setbacks are learning opportunities. Having a firm understanding of the types of things that slow your progress will allow you to both avoid and prevent them.

Resilience is one positive side effect of overcoming setbacks. The journey to becoming a better person requires that you be mentally tough. Setbacks are an organic way to build that mental toughness while still maintaining integrity in your actions and a sense of emotional awareness that promotes a safe environment where others feel seen.

Everyone was once a child. There are things you experienced that were outside of your control, regardless of their severity, those experiences stay with you. Those experiences become part of your story. Overcoming the story you tell yourself about your own experience can be quite a life challenge. Whether you grew up poor, didn’t have a lot of love in your house, or didn’t feel seen, it affects the way you move through the world. There are the facts of these experiences and there are fuzzy edges where our minds fill in the blanks. For Example: if you say “I grew up poor and I am always going to be poor,” that is an example of your story taking control. Comparatively, if you said “I grew up poor, but I am working hard now. I’m doing whatever I can to make sure I have all the things I need and am comfortable”– even if it’s hard, that is still an example of overcoming your story.

I grew up thinking struggling was normal and survival was a default mode of being — it became part of my story. Yet as a youth, I had to make a choice, either I allow the past experiences to shape my current narrative OR I focus on the circumstances of the present as a reflection of my current reality. While the choice may be clear, the action required to shift the narrative is challenging. It requires intentionality and self-awareness. You have to be willing to let go of the stories that don’t serve you anymore, in favor of exploring the present moment to the fullest. Carrying around stale, negative narratives stifles your ability to engage in positive self-reflection which is the cornerstone of personal growth.
When you have set your story aside in favor of embracing the present, you encourage others to do the same. Overcoming your story empowers you to embrace this moment as an opportunity to write a new story — one you are in control of. On the road to becoming a better person focusing on what you can control and letting go of what you can’t control is critical.

Challenges in life are common. No matter who you are, or where you are, if your goal is to become a better person, you will encounter setbacks in some form or fashion. Fortunately, you are now prepared to overcome them with grace and strategy. As you continue along your journey to becoming a better person, remember to let go of the things you can’t control in exchange for being present in the moment, create space for healthy self-reflection, give yourself permission to reexamine your values and beliefs, embrace the resilience that comes from encountering setbacks, allow your failures to be the source of compassionate resonance, and let loss teach you about what you value.

Now that you know what you have to overcome, get out there and submit those peaks, life is waiting for you on the other side. Till next time from this side!