If you’re anything like me, setting goals, and achieving them, comes rather naturally. It’s just a normal process of “going through life”; you set your eyes on something, you put in the work and ta-da the results appear. As far as I can remember, this is how it went: you want to dance and compete at the world championship, sure go ahead and do that. You want to go the number one hotel management school in the world; just apply, get in and graduate four years later. While that sounds all rainbows and butterflies, there is a slight problem with it…It never taught me how to deal with and overcome failure.
Last year, I decided to study for the GMAT (Graduate Management Admission Test; if you’re wondering what it is, it’s simply a standard test that applicants need in order to be selected for an MBA in the best schools). Before starting, I carefully crafted a 6-month study plan, divided the number of hours to weekly quotas, including time dedicated to work on weakness areas, time to practice speed of answering…Anything you can think of, I’ve planned worked it in my plan. Roughly a month before the test date, I realised my score was not improving as much as I wanted and therefore decided to get help from a tutor. After a final month of intense studies, the exam time came around. And unfortunately, I fell short of my goal.
This could go two ways; I could either throw in the towel and move on, or I could take a step back, analyse what went wrong and get back at it. As you can probably guess, I opted for #2, and wanted to share with you the steps that have helped me overcome this setback:
- First, just accept how you feel.
When you’ve just failed it will most likely hurt. Sometimes a bit. Sometimes a lot. And that’s OK. Don’t try to push it away by distracting yourself or by trying to push the responsibility onto the rest of the world. Be ok with what you think and feel, try to accept it, to let it in and to hurt for a while instead of rejecting it all. Because when you accept it, you will move on faster and it will be less painful to process in the long run.
- Be constructive and learn from this situation. See it more as valuable feedback and something you can use to improve rather than only a big blow and setback. I’ve found that the simplest and most helpful way to do that is to ask questions like:
What is one thing I can learn from this?
How can I adjust my course to avoid this trap/making the same mistake and likely do better next time?
What is one thing I can do differently the next time?
- Remind yourself: anyone who wants to do things of value in life will fail. We often mostly just hear about people’s successes. But the path to those milestones tends to have many setbacks. The story of someone’s success may seem only bright and fast-moving in what’s told on social media or what we see in our minds.
- Find inspiration and support from your world. Learn from those who have gone where you want to go. Read about how they handled setbacks and low-points before or during their success in books, on websites or podcasts.
- Move forward again, don’t get stuck in mulling this situation over for too long.
Processing the situation and accepting it is essential. But it’s also easy to get stuck in the same thoughts going around and around for weeks. The habit that has helped me with this trap is to take what I learn from questions like the ones I shared in #2 and to make a small rough plan for how I want to move forward from here. Take some time to sit down, write that plan out and take action right away after drawing it up. The plan you come up with will just be a start and you can course-correct later on, along the way.
- Improve your self-esteem.
A last thing that has helped me in general to handle setbacks is to improve my self-esteem. By doing so failures don’t become something that so easily drags me down and I recover more quickly from them. It also makes it easier to see what happened with more clarity and to take responsibility. But how to improve your self-esteem?
Remember that you are not a failure because you failed. Everyone has setbacks.
Be constructive in the face of adversity.
The biggest take away for me from this experience with the GMAT is that while often times things turn out great, sometimes they don’t. I make mistakes, have setback or I simply fail sometimes. It’s no fun, but I can’t avoid failure either unless I do nothing at all. When you set big goals for yourself, it’s never just a steady climb. Bumps will happen and how long it takes you to overcome them will determine how long it will be until you succeed. There is no doubt in my mind that I will achieve what I set out to, the only unknown variable is time.
Your turn: what target have you missed and how did you overcome it?
By: Amanda Dutko, Performance Coach