How to Deal with Setbacks

It’s a familiar story: you have a plan, you start to follow it, and suddenly unexpected events start interfering with your plan.

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It’s a familiar story: you have a plan, you start to follow it, and suddenly unexpected events start interfering with your plan. For example, you want to be an investment banker. You come to King’s to earn your degree in Finance. It’s going well until one semester it gets difficult. You’re close to failing three of your classes; you have conflict with your roommate; you’re having trouble finding an internship. Everything turns upside down, and you’re left wondering what to do and where to go. You’ve experienced setbacks. Now what?

The first thing to note is that setbacks can often have identifiable causes. To continue the example above, maybe you’re struggling in your classes because you’ve taken on a restaurant job that requires you work evenings, taking up the time you previously used to study. When facing setbacks, take stock of the setbacks you’re facing and any identifiable causes. You may find a solution (maybe you can quit the job and look for a less demanding option), you may not (maybe you really need the income right now), but at least you know your situation. 

Once you’ve identified your setbacks, their causes, and any immediate and viable solutions, it’s time to look at dealing with your setbacks. Ideally, the issues could be resolved in the first step (identifying sources and solutions). This ideal does not, unfortunately, align with reality. There are often obstacles in our life that must be dealt with, not simply removed. The following are some suggestions for thinking about and navigating setbacks. For more information, we recommend reading The Resiliency Advantage: Master change, thrive under pressure, and bounce back from setbacks by Al Siebert.

  1. Identify and make use of your resources. As a student at King’s, you have a wealth of resources available to help you. If you’re struggling in a class, reach out to your professors or Student Success ( Counselors are available for students of King’s through King’s students have access to 24/7 telemedicine health care services through Timely MD, which includes counseling (though sessions are limited, it’s best to consult King’s Counseling for long-term counseling). You can reach out to the Christian Formation Coordinators, members of Student Life, and your House Advisors — and that’s just the resources available at King’s. In whatever area you’re experiencing difficulties, there are people to listen and support you. They can also help you in search of more resources and solutions.
  2. Respond, don’t react. When you experience a setback, don’t react immediately. Take time to carefully consider the situation, seek the advice of relevant individuals, and craft a response. A thoughtful, well-planned strategy will be far more beneficial than a spur-of-the-moment decision made out of fear or frustration at experiencing difficulty.
  3. Avoid blaming others. While someone else may have objectively and unjustly made your situation undesirable, resist the urge to continue blaming them for the problem. This can interfere with you owning the solution and recovering from the blow. To quote Siebert, “Blaming others for ruining the life you had will block you from bouncing back.”
  4. List six things you can do, then pick one and do it. Grab a coffee, a note pad, and brainstorm six ways you can overcome your obstacle. Pick one that appeals the most to you, and do it. The best way to move forward is just to start moving, and this exercise can get the ball rolling. 
  5. Approach the problem from a Growth Mindset. A Growth Mindset acknowledges that talents, strengths, and abilities are developed. Don’t panic if you can’t do everything you thought you could right away. It takes time to achieve goals, and you’ll need to do a lot of learning and growing along the way. Obstacles are normal and help you develop strengths as you overcome them. Along with a Growth Mindset comes prioritizing learning over appearing talented. Be real with yourself and others about where you need help so you can learn and grow in those areas. Embrace your mistakes and confront your deficiencies; you’re not done growing and navigating your setbacks. You’re just getting started.
  6. Acknowledge your stressers. Identify areas where you may struggle or need help. As you move on from your present setbacks, having an awareness of where future ones may arise can prevent blind-siding by difficulty. Don’t trick yourself into thinking that your plans have to be perfect or they’re not worth it. You will encounter problems. Knowing what they are can deafen the blow.

Setbacks are a part of life. They won’t defeat you, but you must be intentional in dealing with them. There is no one-fits-all solution, but we hope these six steps will help you in the process. 

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