Setbacks: Stumbling Forward

Setbacks. Stumbling Forward. Psychology Fanatic article header image

Life can be challenging! Well-planned adjustments don’t flow seamlessly, creating the desired transformations we seek. The returning college student, after years of departure, may encounter a biased teacher. A new enthusiastic charge to improve a broken relationship may encounter an unwilling spouse. The bright hopes of a new body may be halted by injury. Setbacks besiege us at every turn. Our best laid plans encounter interruptions. Obstacles are numerous and unpredictable, setting us back. We stumble when moving forward.

​Success in careers, relationships and life require surmounting difficulties—many of them. Success doesn’t bless those seeking an easy path presenting no resistance. Success is the reward for those who courageously are willing to stumble, and then they respond with a creative solution.

“Success doesn’t bless those seeking an easy path with no resistance. Success is the reward for those who courageously are willing to stumble, and then they respond with a creative solution.”

~T. Franklin Murphy

Setbacks Interfering with New Paths

Life is individual enough, just different enough, that it is unpredictable. No path, action or preparation guarantees success. We must always factor in a degree of unknowns. The larger, the more complex, and the more original the plan, the more opportunity for unexpected intruders to impede and cause us to stumble. We must make room for the setbacks.

If my plans are to quit work, write a book, and sell a million copies before my dwindling funds disappear, I open myself to extreme vulnerability, where any setback may prove disastrous. I can still write that book, but maybe writing part-time while continuing to receive a steady paycheck.

Struggles Inevitable 

Stumbling is a fact of life, setting us back. The toddler learns to run and keep balance only after stumbling through his first year of walking. If the child sat and waited for the strength and balance before venturing across the kitchen floor, she would never walk. So, we learn to stand, and once standing, we learn to walk, and once walking we learn to run. Each progression is marked with a thousand errors—slips, stumbles and falls. We feel hurt, wounded and embarrassed. Our egos get bruised and others gasp and giggle at our momentary failures.

We learn from the fall, dust off our knees, and start charging forward again—but this time with a little more wisdom. Disappointments, setbacks, and occasional failure accompany any meaningful journey. Instead of expending energy to protect the ego withdrawing from outside achievements (object cathexis), we should get up, refocus, and make necessary adjustments to work through the momentary fall and skillfully move forward again.

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