Ten Myths to Reconsider when Facing Setbacks

Ten Myths to Reconsider when Facing Setbacks

(This article originally appeared in Ambition, the thought leadership publication by the Association of MBAs (AMBA) – in print and online – and has been republished on this website with the permission of AMBA.)

The thing about challenges is that it’s not always the problem itself that is holding us back, but how we look at it. As the saying goes: “When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change”.

Here are 10 things to think about differently when you are faced with a setback at work. Because if you do, they might just unlock a new path to growth and a happier way of moving forward.

1. The unfair reputation of taking it slowly

Myth – If it didn’t happen yesterday, it’s never going to happen.

Truth – The virtue of patience and value of inaction.

On slowing down. Speed of success is too often used as a benchmark in evaluating potential. The truth, as convenient or inconvenient as it may be, is that slowing down and stopping for a while will make you stronger, more resilient, healthier, and happier. Don’t underestimate the importance of slowing down and even stop­ping to move forwards again and perform at your peak.

2. Not all success is successful

Myth – Success is measured by universal benchmarks, often money and status.

Truth – Success is as individual as you are.

On defining success. Who hasn’t chased a dream that turned out to be a nightmare? Your individual bench­marks for success need to be considered carefully because they inform how you spend your time and effort, life and happiness. If you don’t measure success in terms that are truly important to you, you can’t work towards getting there. Nine times out of 10, the problem isn’t with what you are or aren’t achieving, it’s with your goalposts.

3. Make your catastrophe your calling card

Myth – Lock your disaster in a safe and throw away the key.

Truth – Bad experiences are just as powerful to own as positive ones.

On rethinking your catastrophe. If something goes wrong, we are usually relieved when nobody has noticed or witnessed our faux pas. Which is odd when you consider that failures happen to most of us with intermittent frequency. And they often make for better learnings and stories than successes do. Learn to ‘unhide’ your professional missteps and make them part of your story and your resilience in a positive way.

4. Flexibility will fix it

Myth – To be confident and strong you must stick to your guns no matter what.

Truth – Changing your mind is a sign of a good listener, a confident thinker, and an empowering leader.

On changing your mind. Society has conditioned us to think that changing our minds is a sign of indecision and inconsistency. Quite frankly, the opposite can be true. Changing your mind to reflect a shift in circumstance, new information or a different way of solving an old problem should be embraced as an opportunity to strengthen your position, not as a compromise that weakens your resolve.

5. In pace lies power

Myth – Achievements count for more when they are reached at speed.

Truth – Tempo is the secret to success. Know when to slow down, stop and even reverse before proceeding.

On timing. Timing is the key to comedy and, as it turns out, to rebuilds. We will always feel the temptation and pressure to be as quick and as efficient as possible, especially when it comes to agendas with a commercial goal at stake. But doing the right thing at the wrong time can backfire badly. But we mustn’t forget the impact we are trying to achieve and the pace that will help deliver it. Patience and impatience are both valid drivers. Just make sure they serve the outcomes you want.

Ten Myths to Reconsider when Facing Setbacks

6. Rebuilding is a process, not a project

Myth – There is a beginning and an end to every rebuild.

Truth – Rebuilds simply transition through different phases.

On recovering from a setback. It’s rarely a fait accompli. It’s a process that can take months, years, sometimes a lifetime. To ensure your comeback stays on track, focus on the day ahead, the things you can control and look after yourself. Progress is rarely linear so don’t be disheartened by twists and turns.

7. All paths lead through failure

Myth – Failure happens to people who don’t succeed.

Truth – Failure is a critical part of progress.

On failure. Each success is propped up by the many failures that came before. But one failure doesn’t mean we won’t succeed next time around; in fact, quite the opposite. Failures are prerequisites to progress – they are necessary steps on the path to improvement and success which you can use to move forwards.

8. Stop peeking into the past

Myth – If we examine past mistakes hard enough we won’t make them again.

Truth – We must stop looking backwards if we want to move forwards.

On how to stop looking back and start looking forwards. Who hasn’t indulged by wallowing in hindsight? Or analysed the mistakes of each misstep? If you are trying to move on from a diffi­cult setback, then freeing yourself from what’s come before and projecting your mind forwards to what could be next will help kick start momentum and get you unstuck.

9. The glass is neither half empty nor half full

Myth – Positive thinking is the key to success.

Truth – Learn to balance realism and optimism.

On optimism. We have grown up being told that by adopting a positive mindset, everything will be ok. Setbacks might dent our rosy outlook on the world, but we shouldn’t let them dim our optimism completely. Far better to have a healthy balance of optimism and realism. This way we can keep our chins up while still being prepared to face the bumps in the road that come our way.

10. Don’t wait to know it all

Myth – Don’t set out on a journey without knowing precisely where you are headed.

Truth – Curiosity will get you further than knowledge.

On not knowing. All paths in life are fraught with blind spots, no matter how much we plan. If we want to leave a setback behind and embark on a journey to somewhere better, then we need to embrace the idea of not knowing everything and getting lost for a while. Not only is a messy middle period inevitable but it is where all the great new ideas and plans emerge.

So there you have it. You might be nodding along to all of these. Or maybe you will find just one more relevant to your situation. Whichever it is, the main outtake is that anyone can work through a setback. It’s a skill we can get better at, the more we practise it. When life gives you lemons, rebuild.

This is an adapted version of an article that was published on AMBA’s website, written by Anna Vogt; a resilience expert, the Chief Strategy Officer at VMLY&R London and co-author of the new book The Rebuilders: Going From Setback to Comeback in Business and Beyond.

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