Embrace Your Setbacks -- and Use Them to Your Advantage

We're either the sum of our setbacks or the sum of our triumphs. Choose the latter.
Embrace Your Setbacks -- and Use Them to Your Advantage
Image credit: Nigel Parry
Magazine Contributor
Editor in Chief
4 min read

This story appears in the January 2018 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

As we enter into a new year, I’ve thought a lot about something a woman asked me at the end of 2017. I was a guest on the Never Settle Show, a live-streaming talk show, and she sat in the front row of the audience and stood up to speak. She’s experienced a lot of setbacks, she said. A lot of obstacles. Her life often feels stagnant. How, she wondered, can she move forward?

Related: 3 Tips to Transform Setbacks Into Success

And I told her this: Nobody sees your past except you.

Consider this magazine you hold in your hands. You don’t see the five articles that fell apart. Or the two successive freelance editors we’d hired to help who then backed out and left us scrambling. Or the story we rewrote so many times, we thought about scrapping it. Or the fires, the many fires, we put out in the final week. All you see is what we wanted you to see: our final product, as good as we could make it.

Consider the guy writing these words. You don’t see the times I was turned down for jobs. The note from an editor I once had, who wrote, large and in red, that my work was “a lot of words with not much substance.” (Screw that guy.) The time I got fired. The time I misspelled a man’s name throughout an entire 3,000-word story. My clumsy first weeks as editor in chief, as I struggled to figure out how to inhabit the role. All you see is what I want you to see: a professional, as good as I could make myself.

Related: Why True Entrepreneurs View Setbacks As Opportunities

Now extend that to yourself. To you, your mistakes may feel ever-present -- always there, always stifling. But nobody knows them. Nobody knows the doubt. Nobody knows the rejections, the insults, the slammed doors, the frustrations, the anxiety that kept you anchored to a chair. These things are not branded on your skin. They’re not stitched into your clothing. They’re only with you if you choose to carry them.

It’s a new year, but we don’t need a new calendar to break with our past. We can do it daily. We can do it hourly -- walk out of a bad meeting, collect our thoughts and walk into the next one with a smile. Still, the calendar does at least give us a tidy way of thinking about time: That was then, and this is now. We can think of a setback as either an ever-­present part of our lives or something that happened at a fixed point in time -- in a particular month or a particular year, always fading away from us, stuck in the past as we charge toward the future.

I don’t mean to say that your hardships should remain secret. They made you who you are, and I encourage you to embrace that. But the upside of setbacks isn’t just hard-won wisdom; it’s an appealing story that will draw people to you, and to your brand. Everyone loves a hero’s journey -- including, frankly, the staff of Entrepreneur magazine, and our readers. We’re all drawn to the tale of someone who went on a quest, experienced terrible setbacks and overcame them on their way to success. If you’ve been set back, it just means you have a great story to tell.

Related: 10 Ways to Move Forward After Suffering a Big Setback

I’ll be honest with you: In a way, I’ve just told you my own hero’s journey. I revealed obstacles in the context of success. I did it because it felt good, and because I knew you’d respond well to it. I knew it’d make you like me more. Even here, now, in this sentence, I’m showing you only what I want you to see.

The new year is here. Let’s tell our stories the way we want them to be told. Nobody sees your past except you.

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