How to Handle Setbacks

Setbacks happen, and yes they suck, but they are as much part of our business as they are a part of life. From the very beginning of our existence, failure is at our doorsteps. As a toddler, you have to fall first before you can walk. It is how life strengthens and teaches us how to overcome.

Your setbacks and failures don’t define you, but how you handle them does. Get into the habit of always seeing everything as an opportunity to grow and get better. Individuals with a growth mindset find setbacks motivating, informative, and it helps them wake up. The passion for stretching yourself and sticking to it, even (or especially) when it’s not going well, is the hallmark of the growth mindset. This is the mindset that allows people to thrive during some of the most challenging times in their lives. Having a growth mindset when you encounter your setbacks determines if you will overcome them and flourish, or if you will be overrun by them.

Think of your setback not as I am a failure but as I failed at this and now I can do what I need to get better. Think of your challenges not as I can’t do this, but as How can I learn to do this? Projects won’t turn out the way you wanted them to, you will have personal setbacks (I have had them), but these setbacks are not because you are a failure but because they are part of a bigger journey of you becoming the champion you want to be. It takes guts and determination to overcome and win. Here a few examples of theater artist overcoming setbacks:

Padraic Lillis, the Farm Theater: “In the early stage of the Farm Theater, I had doubts about whether I was equipped to deliver the goals I had set but I quickly realized I could create opportunities for the early career artist. That was really energizing. It turns out that the project is benefiting many more future artists than the original goal ever would have.”

Francisco Solorzano, Barefoot Theater Company: “The biggest setback when starting out was realizing the amount of hard work it truly takes to build and maintain a productive ensemble that respects and supports each other, individually and collectively…we’ve been able to grow and flourish into a 15-year-old, bi-coastal theater and film company by understanding we needed to become really good at staying focused on the work, and how to nourish and protect the process it takes to create that work.”

Erin Cronican, Seeing Place Theater: “There are so many setbacks when doing something that others think are impossible! We have faced many detractors from major reviewers who have said that they will never review a ‘revival’ done by an indie company, to some fellow artists who have said, ‘Who do you think you are to presume that you can do anything with these works that others haven’t?’ The key for us has been to stay true to our mission, no matter what comes our way. If you have the passion, resources, and moxie, you should explore that mission as far as it can go, because some of the greatest work has been created in adversity. This weekend we are celebrating our five-year anniversary as a theater company.”

Keep swinging for the fences and keep stepping up to the plate knowing that when you swing for the fences, you will miss at times and you will have setbacks. Both Hank Aaron and Babe Ruth had more strikeouts than home runs, but when they finally connected, they hit home runs.

And don’t forget the greatest example of all: Michael Jordan was cut from the high school varsity team, wasn’t recruited by the college he wanted, and wasn’t drafted by the first two NBA teams that could have chosen him. He became the greater athlete of our era.

Your setbacks and failures don’t define you, but how you handle them does!

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