Showing Up for Setbacks

Showing Up for Setbacks

On our way to Mt. Hood a few weeks ago, I totaled my car.  My teenage daughter yelled, “Watch out!” and the next thing I remember, airbags and dust were filling up my car.  A woman jumped out of the car I’d hit and saw that I was hyperventilating and called 911. Then she comforted my crying daughter by wrapping her in a blanket and told her everything would be alright. Nobody was hurt and the other car didn’t have a scratch.  We were very lucky.  

It made me think about how people respond in a stressful situation. Obviously hyperventilating isn’t ideal but I couldn’t see the other car (airbags will do that) and I was concerned the other person might be hurt - or worse.  I read an article recently called You're Only As Good As Your Worst Day and thought this day qualified as one of those “worst day” moments. In that article Shane Parrish explains that it’s not about being perfect under immense stress or behaving according to plan when everything goes awry. “It’s because what you do on your worst day is impossible to fake.”  He goes on to say that your plans and preparation (or lack thereof) show how much you really care about the people who depend on you. He was referring to leaders and how they respond when employees are fearful in a time of uncertainty but it resonated with me and how I wanted to respond in the presence of my daughter. So we wrote a note to the woman whose car I’d hit, thanking her for her kindness and the warm blanket.

“Everyone makes mistakes, has setbacks and failures. You don't come with a book on how to get it right all the time. You will fail sometimes, not because you planned to, but simply because you're human. Failure is a part of creating a great life. Stand up to it and handle it with grace. Because, you can.” - Les Brown

Setbacks Won’t Rock the Boat (as much)

Author and psychologist, Rick Hanson, University of California, Berkeley said, “. .As you build up this unshakable core inside, when the waves of life come, they don’t rock your boat so much. And they don’t capsize you. And you recover more quickly.”  Resilience is remaining calm under pressure, and in the face of the demands of life, work, or any transition that requires a new way of being in the world, such as a divorce, job loss, changing corporate environment, death, or illness. It isn't that nothing affects us, but rather, that we are able to handle the stress or move in a new direction after a setback or change.”  It's about the ability to adapt. Barbara Bradley Hagarty, a journalist, wrote: “Bad events seem to cluster in midlife. But people with charmed lives — zero traumas — were unhappier and more easily distressed than people who had suffered a few negative events in their lifetime. According to resilience research, some setbacks give you perspective and help you bounce back.”  

Embrace The “Steeling Effect”

“There’s something called the ‘steeling effect’ that makes us stronger,” says Michael Ungar, founder of the Resilience Research Centre in Nova Scotia, Canada. “If we’ve come through adversity, that means we’ve also developed a set of coping capacities. We know how to reach out for help. Or we know that this, too, will pass. Over time, resilient people develop the mental toughness to face what life throws at them. They learn to cope, even live joyfully, with less-than-ideal circumstances.”

In midlife, our collective setbacks create a greater capacity to overcome personal and professional obstacles. Although I’m not quite ready to get behind a steering wheel, I know that this feeling will not last forever and that in the future, I will be the most alert driver EVER.  We never know when stressful situations or even tragedy will strike. We never know when our friends or family members will need us immediately.  We never know when our last day will come but while we’re on this planet, we can choose how to respond in less than ideal situations and be even more prepared for the next setback.

Reviewed & Recommended:

NPR Article: Setbacks: 8 Ways You Can Survive — And Thrive In — Midlife

Book: Being Mortal: What Matters in the End

NYT Article: Sheryl Sandberg - How to Build Resilient Kids After a Loss