Building resilience: how to bounce back from setbacks


5 min read

Setbacks happen. Someone else gets the position you were working towards. Your big project is a flop. You get some negative feedback from your boss. You don’t get a call back for that dream job interview.

At the time, setbacks suck. Rejection can feel devastating. You may just want to throw in the towel because, well, what’s the point?

Oh, but there is a point.

Recovering from a setback can help you get better and stronger. In fact, you could say one of the prerequisites for success is some hurdles along the way that help you build resilience.

Some of the world’s most successful people have failed — sometimes more than once:

  • Three-time Academy Award winning director Stephen Spielberg was rejected twice by the University of Southern California’s School of Cinematic Arts
  • Katy Perry failed with four different record labels over nine years before she scored a hit single with “I Kissed a Girl”
  • Walt Disney was told by his former newspaper editor that he ‘lacked imagination and had no good ideas”
  • Oprah Winfrey was fired from her first TV job as an anchor in Baltimore – she was getting “too emotionally invested” in her stories!

By experiencing failures and making mistakes, we learn how to overcome obstacles in the future, how to develop strategies for coping with the unexpected outcomes, and we become more resilient.

Ready to tackle your setbacks head-on? Here’s how to bounce back like a boss:


Give yourself time to sulk

It’s not easy to simply ‘get over’ a setback and move on. Give yourself a moment to process and feel sorry for yourself. Go on, take a day, a week or a month.

Recalibrate, meditate, binge a whole day of Netflix – whatever it takes to get it out of your system. But don’t let it derail you.

Then, regroup and get ready to take action.

Work out what you’re dealing with

Before you can bounce back, you need to know which type of setback you’re dealing with. There are three types:

  1. A speed bump that slows you down or prevents you from doing something, such as someone in your project team getting sick meaning you miss the deadline
  2. An obstacle that stands in your way, such as not scoring a job interview
  3. A serious and unexpected event, like a major illness.

Depending on which type of setback it is determines how you should act.

Accept what you can’t change

Do you let traffic, a delayed flight, or a disappointing email ruin your whole day? You won’t gain anything by trying to change something you have no control over. It’s a waste of your time and energy and will lead to a host of negative emotions. Park it and move on.

Instead, focus on the things you can control – that’s where you can take positive action.

Make an action plan

Approach the setback as if doing nothing isn’t an option. But don’t be hasty – take the time to plan properly to build confidence in your actions.
Consider your options – what can you change about the situation? How much risk are you willing to take? For example, if you missed out on the interview, your plan of action would be to review your resume and application, ask a friend to give you some feedback, and call the recruiter for feedback. These are all positive steps to set you up for success next time.
If the setback still seems a bit overwhelming, just focus on doing a few little things to get the ball rolling. It’s about doing something to move forward with your life – however big or small that something is.

Give yourself a break

Anyone can take a dive. If everything we did in life was easy and stress-free, would we ever learn anything and grow? It is through setbacks and struggles that you can really challenge yourself, think more creatively to solve problems and find out what you’re made of.

The truth is, you’re not perfect – you’re human. Your whole life is an ongoing process of ‘figuring it out’. So don’t beat yourself up – everyone else is doing the same!

Skip the blame game

Just as you need to give yourself a break, give other people a break too. When people let you down, projects fail or plans fall apart, it’s easy to start laying blame. But it doesn’t help anyone – least of all you. Instead, it drags you down and stops you from moving on, learning and taking action.

Reflect on the experience

It might feel raw right now, but it’s important to reflect on your experience. Learning the lessons that your setbacks deliver is how to build resilience.
Write down what happened, or talk about it with a friend and ask yourself what you could have done differently. Were there signs that the setback was approaching? If so, set yourself up for success next time by working out how to avoid the problems and obstacles that led to the setback.

You’ve got this.

The way that you deal with every disappointment, problem and obstacle is setting you up for how you’re going to deal with the next one. You have the power to take action and make changes that help you bounce back. And you can even come out the other side in a better position than you started – with more resilience!

Download the Hodie app to learn how to build resilience and start bouncing back.