THE BLOG
08/23/2011 11:25 pm ET Updated Oct 24, 2011

How to View Setbacks on the Road to Success

When we set our sights on a goal, no matter what it might be, and someone or something gets in our way, our first impulse is often to feel badly about it.

We tend to get angry, anxious, depressed, frustrated, discouraged and/or demoralized, due to our interpreting what has happened as a setback.

This is a mistake. At any one moment in time, we don't really know if something that happens is, in the long run, going to be in our best interests or not. At any one moment in time, we don't really know if something is good luck or bad luck.

The truth of it is: What we think is good luck today, could prove, at a later date, to have been an unfortunate turn of events that led us down a road to nowhere. Equally so, what we think is bad luck today, could prove, down the road, to have been a huge blessing in disguise; one that was pivotal in getting us to the ultimate place we wanted to go.

We just don't know. We aren't able to see the bigger picture at the moment something is happening to us. Therefore, it's best that we not presume anything is good or bad for us; and it's best that we not make assumptions about the impact any event is going to have on our future. In which case, it's best we not react emotionally, in a positive or negative way, to events as they occur, but rather stay calm and objective.

There's no need to assume that something is an obstacle or a barrier to our success, simply because it's blocking our path, and become discouraged by it. Conversely, there's no need to assume that something seemingly positive is going to be our ticket to heaven and that we should start celebrating.

Of the two scenarios, perceiving something as a setback and driving ourselves emotionally into the ground because of it tends to be the more damaging one that deserves closer attention. Let's take a look at an example.

Let's say I am an aspiring author. I send a query letter to an agent, seeking his representation to help me sell my book, and the agent sends me a curt note saying that, "The book will never sell. Better keep your day job."

I have a choice. I can fill my mind with doom and gloom, with fearful, catastrophic thoughts that, "I'm not good enough. My book isn't good enough. I'll never get an agent. My book will never see the light of day. Nothing is ever going to work out. I am going to be an eternal failure."

Or I can tell myself that the agent's rejection doesn't mean my book is worthless and won't ever sell. Nor does it mean that I am worthless and will never amount to anything. I don't have to go down that road in my head.

His rejection simply means that he doesn't like my book. It simply means he is not going to be the one who's going to represent me. It simply means he's not in the final equation of my success. His rejection actually says nothing about my potential to succeed in the long run. It speaks more to who he is than to who I am.

I don't have to fill my mind with catastrophic fear thoughts of a lifetime of failure and frustration. I don't have to get depressed or anxious. I don't have to get angry, bitter and resentful. I can stay positive, be grateful that a dead end has revealed itself and be confident that the opportunity I'm looking for is just around the corner.

In truth, rather than feeling beaten up by the agent's letter, I can choose to view him as a great friend and ally, who has done me a huge favor by getting out of the way so that I can focus my energies on finding the right person who will share my vision and help me hit a home run out of the ballpark.

It is our fear that makes us assume the worst when something doesn't happen the way we think it should or hope it will. It is our fear that makes us jump to negative conclusions about our future based on one isolated incident, the true value of which cannot be adequately defined in the moment it's occurring. It is our fear that generates our catastrophic thoughts that we are not good enough and that nothing will ever fall our way.

Rather than give in to these catastrophic fear thoughts and allow them to terrorize and demoralize us, it behooves us to find another way to look at every seeming setback, to discover the blessings in every disguise, to examine every cloud for its silver lining and to consider the possibility that, regardless of what is happening, we're exactly where we are supposed to be; in which case, it behooves us to stay calm and confident, learn from our mistakes, move forward without fear and smell the roses while we're at it.