What to Ask Yourself to Turn Disappointment, Setback and Failure into Catalysts for Growth

October 31, 2017


Life is a journey. Just like childhood did not last forever, life has a series of segments, and whatever you are experiencing in this moment—this, too, shall pass.


While you might not believe it now, sometime in the coming days or years, you will laugh so hard that your sides hurt, you will love so strongly that it takes your breath away, and you will be amazed at the glorious miracles that the world has to offer.


One way to get to the good stuff faster is to use your setbacks, disappointments and failures as learning opportunities. How do you do that?


One simple question: What is this telling me about what I want for myself?


If you can focus on what the situation is showing you that you want for yourself instead of judging yourself for failing, you can use the experience to move forward towards your desires instead of giving up on them, as so often happens.


Identifying and really owning what we want for ourselves is often the most difficult task in creating “what’s next,” because it is easy to use setbacks as evidence of our unworthiness. However, no one is immune to setbacks and even failures. In fact, most successful people would say that their setbacks paved the way for their future success.


If you can remember that whatever you are experiencing today is nothing more than a step in a journey with unlimited potential, you will never be stuck in failure or mired in disappointment.


I love this idea from author Martha Beck: Beck says that all of life’s blessings can be traced back to something that felt like a disappointment or even a tragedy.[1] In other words, the best things that have happened to you would never have happened if it were not for some event that at the time felt devastating.


Imagine, for instance, that one of the best things that ever happened to you was having your children. Imagine, too, that years and years ago, your college lover cheated on you with your best friend, which broke your heart and ended two of your most important relationships. At the time, losing your lover and your best friend was devastating. However, looking back you realize that if that betrayal had not happened, you might have stayed with that person and your own children would never have been born.


Now you can see how that college relationship is only a failure if you never learned from it and moved on. The same is true of today’s disappointment. Eventually, it will be yesterday’s learning opportunity. If you can remember that, you will not be swallowed up and defeated by the overwhelming emotions you feel today.


Resilient people see the bigger picture.


They know that they are moving through life, one step at a time, and this gives them the perspective needed to stay rooted in their hopes and desires. Instead of allowing panic to set in, they focus on finding their way through the chaos to a place where they might someday say, “I am better off now than I was before.”


This mindset makes them better able to rebound when the rug gets pulled out from under them. They are less likely to take the catastrophe as a total indictment of their abilities. Instead of thinking a job loss or bankruptcy means they are a complete failure, they realize that their strengths were not a match for that position, that they were sacrificing too many of their needs, or that the situation did not align with their values. This allows them to believe that the next step will be a better one along the journey.


The next time you feel like you are being forced to reinvent yourself—whether due to the loss of a job, a life-threatening illness, the death of a person or relationship, or some other aspect of your life with which you identified—ask yourself this question:


What is this telling me about what I want for myself?


This question will allow you to use your current situation as a catalyst for taking another step in your journey—one that is moving towards your desires instead of away from them. 


It is easy to understand how people give up their dreams when the pain of disappointments gets too much to bear. But people who end up achieving their dreams use their experiences as opportunities to clarify what they want for themselves and refuse to give up their desires. 



So, back yourself up to 30,000 feet and check out the view from up there.


You are moving through life, one step at a time, and your current situation will only be the end of your story if you stop now. This setback you currently face is nothing more than a step in a journey with unlimited potential.




[1] Beck, Martha. Finding Your Own North Star: Claiming the Life You Were Meant to Live. New York: Three Rivers Press, 2001.


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