How to Neutralize a Setback and Empower Yourself


If you’re like most people, you will probably encounter a few disappointments and bumps in the road. The most important thing is how you respond to them.

When you feel disappointed, it can be hard to see a way around it or past it. So, today I want to share a framework that will help you approach setbacks more productively. To get the most out of it, identify an obstacle or disappointment that you are dealing with right now or one you recently experienced. It can be personal or professional. This framework will give you three new lenses to help you start viewing the same situation differently.

Reverse lens — Look back at what might have led up to the disappointing situation and do some role reversal. For example, let's say you were turned down for an assignment you really wanted. Think about why the decision-maker thought it made sense. What would you have thought or done if you were in their shoes, based on the information at hand? This should give you insight that could come in handy the next time you seek an opportunity. For example, what or whom did you overlook as you sought the assignment? Maybe you'll realize that key people weren't aware of your value and that you need to more consistently and tastefully self-promote.

Wide lens — How does this setback fit into the bigger picture of your career? Maybe you had your heart set on this assignment because it would have given you exposure to some senior leaders and the chance to demonstrate your readiness for a promotion. It's unlikely, though, that this assignment is the only way to do that. Brainstorm your "Plan B" so that you have additional options for accomplishing the same goals.

Long lens — At first, setbacks can feel insurmountable. You might think, "That's it. I lost this opportunity, so my career plans are stalled." But as you examine this from a longer-term perspective, you'll probably realize that this setback won’t hold you back as much as you originally feared. When you begin to look at it this way, you'll start to find ways to keep things on track.

Sometimes your emotions may be so strong that you need to acknowledge what you’re really disappointed about before you move forward. Use this framework to start seeing things from different vantage points, to help you renew your sense of possibility and start mapping out next steps. For more proven strategies, pick up a copy of my book Show Up. Step Up. Step Out: Leadership Through a New Lens. You can read the first five chapters for free now.