It’s easy to spike the ball when you win. But how we react to setbacks is an important indicator of our long term success.
On the morning after the national election, probably half the nation is upset they didn’t win. Yet today isn’t essentially different than any other day, in any other place in the world: People wake up to disappointment, failures and setbacks all the time. Certainly, we must run through our emotions: how we feel is our direct indicator that something hasn’t gone right for us. So, let’s take some time to reflect, feel the pain… perhaps for 24 hours.
But then let’s move on. Rather than dwell on the failure, let’s learn from it. Setbacks are much more than emotional disappointments: They are objective assessments by the world that something isn’t right. Just as recessions tell markets that capital or labor is being misallocated, setbacks challenge us to examine our premises and change our actions. The trick is to overcome our negative emotions and put our minds back to work figuring out what went wrong, and what to do next.
In my experience, how we react to setbacks is just as important as how we react to victories.
Thirteen years ago, after a coughing fit and an overnight stay in the hospital, I learned that I had lung cancer. A punch in the stomach, to be sure. No, much more. I’d been on a high that year – delivering more than 90 events, travelling to every state in America, buying a luxury car, in a wonderful relationship. Then, wham!
Since I’m writing this, you know how it turned out. It wasn’t easy. I had lots of help. But I got it done.
Now imagine what it felt like on my fifth checkup anniversary when my doctor said, “The good news is that you’re free of lung cancer. The bad news is that you now have kidney cancer.”
After the first time, it took a ton of time, energy and commitment to build back my strength, physically and mentally. I reminded myself every day that the universe wasn’t out to get me; that I could regain my momentum. Five years after my first health challenge, I had quintupled my company size, grew my revenues by more, and was leading a team that contributed to the daily success of hundreds of thousands of salespeople around the world.
But could I do it again, five years later?
Today, six years after the second battle with – no, victory over! – cancer, my company is healthier than ever. We don’t look anything like we did five years ago, but neither do I. My company has adapted to the new realities of the markets, and I personally have grown to reach new levels of performance. Two years ago, I addressed a crowd of nearly 4,000 people, opening the afternoon session before Sir Bob Geldof took the stage. Not too shabby! Last year I married my best friend in the world. This year I travelled to more than a dozen countries, spreading ideas on growth and success farther than ever. I even won a photo contest doing something I’d never considered part of my success story before.
None of which would have happened had I reacted differently to my setbacks.
Setbacks aren’t fun; take it from me. But we’ve all had them, and we’re going to have more of them. Personal, political, physical and mental. Setbacks are a vital part of life: sometimes offering more information about the world than our victories. Like many people, I started the day today feeling a pit in my stomach. And then I took a shower, put on my suit, and prepared to deliver a motivational seminar this afternoon. Will it be hard, trying to motivate others when inside I feel a bit demoralized myself? Oh, yes. But it won’t stop me from doing my part, trying to make a little corner of the world a little better every day. I’ve overcome far greater challenges; so, I bet, have you.
It’s up to us to decide if a setback becomes a “stand still.” For me, they’re simply new starting points from which to change.
And start again on our journey towards success!