When Disappointment Strikes: 3 Steps For Dealing With A Setback

“In 1978, Michael Jordan was just another kid in the gym, along with 50 or so of his classmates, trying out for the Emsley A. Laney High School varsity basketball team. There were 15 roster spots. Jordan – then a 15-year-old sophomore who was only 5’10” and could not yet dunk a basketball – did not get one. His close friend, 6’7″ sophomore Leroy Smith, did. The team was in need of his length. “It was embarrassing not making the team,” Jordan later said. He went home, locked himself in his room and cried.” October 17th, 2015 Newsweek article

Have you ever been disappointed, perhaps even devastated in your career?

Perhaps you didn’t get the promotion you expected, or landed that big account or, worse yet, were let go not because you didn’t do the job, but because of circumstances beyond your control.

If you answered yes to any of the above questions, you are not alone.

Not Limited To NBA Stars Or Nobel Physicists

The Newsweek story about NBA legend Michael Jordan, who many consider to be the greatest NBA basketball player of all time, not making his high school basketball team, is just one of many examples of how no one is immune to life’s setbacks.


If sports isn’t your thing, simply do a search of Walt Disney or Albert Einstein – both who had similar experiences to those of Jordan, but rose to the top of their respective professions.

Of course you do not have to be an NBA star or Nobel winning physicist, to taste the bitter pill of disappointment.

In my book The Future Of You, I share a story of Julie. For 15 years, Julie held a senior position within the healthcare industry as a senior event planner.  Overseeing her company’s venues in both the United States and Latin America, she had built a tremendous reputation for being an on-the-ground, front-line manager whose presence at exhibits and events exemplified the term “personal service.”

In essence, she was the face of the company, someone who was well liked by everyone. Even after her company had been acquired, there was no sign that she would lose her job. However, and despite a glowing track record and having strong relationships with members of her original company’s senior management, Julie was blindsided, when she suddenly found herself out of work.

My story is similar to Julie’s. Reflecting back on my own past, I remember the excitement I felt in my second year of management. Feeling very confident due to the outstanding performance of my sales team, I was thoroughly shocked when I was asked to leave the company by the President.  As I later understood, it was not that I did not meet my objectives but rather that I did not know how to play the political arena.  During my employment, I believed results spoke louder than relationships and I therefore made no attempt to build sponsors with senior leadership.

Both Julie’s and my story are even more troubling in that we both experienced feeling letdown when we believed we were at the top of our games, and were not only meeting, but exceeding expectations!

The question is, therefore, not one of how to avoid disappointment or failure – because you may not have control, but what to do when you come face-to-face with it.

In this month’s eNewsletter, I will provide you with 3 critical tips on how to face life’s disappointments so that you can use the experience to turn a setback into a win.

1. Feel The Burn

When faced with a setback, you have probably heard or been told directly of how it is important to pull your socks up, and how when you get lemons, you should make lemonade.

There is nothing inherently wrong with this advice unless . . . it forces you to deny or push down your understandable feelings of anger, disappointment or grief.

Let’s face it, when you experience a setback, it is tough.


Look at Michael Jordan.

After he found out that he did not make his high school basketball team, what did he do?

He went home, locked himself in his room and cried. He allowed himself the time to feel the burn of disappointment.

Of course he didn’t wallow in it, because as the article reports, he “then he picked himself up and turned the cut into motivation.” I will talk about this more in the next section.

My point is that you cannot overcome a setback or disappointment, unless you acknowledge that a setback has occurred.

So how do you feel disappointment?

  • The first thing you should do is to take some time to be alone with your feelings. Find a safe and quiet place where you can cry, yell into a pillow, binge watch (with snacks) your favorite television series, yell some more etc. In short, let your feelings have their due.
  • Do NOT under any circumstances, strike out against anyone whom you feel has had a hand in your situation. If you really feel that something has to be said, make certain that you have had your feel the burn moment, and can then speak from a position of control as opposed to emotion. Follow the edict of the old acronym H-A-L-T . . . never say or do anything when you are hungry, angry, lonely or tired.
  • Talk with a confidante or trusted friend. While they may not be able to solve your problem, having a friendly ear to bend will help with easing the pain of your situation. Just don’t wallow in commiseration.
  • Finally, and always remember . . . tough times never last, but tough people do!

2. Time For Lemonade!

Then he picked himself up and turned the cut into motivation. “Whenever I was working out and got tired and figured I ought to stop, I’d close my eyes and see that list in the locker room without my name on it,” Jordan would explain. “That usually got me going again.” – October 17th, 2015 Newsweek article

After he was through feeling the pain of his disappointment, Michael Jordan then turned it around and used the setback as a tool for motivation.

Carrying what was described as being a “sizable chip on his shoulder,” when he did end up playing at the Junior Varsity level he excelled on the courts.

Eventually, his size – he grew 4 inches by the time he started playing for the Senior Varsity squad – coupled with his determined work ethic, put him on the course that led to his ascension as professional basketball’s greatest player. During his professional career his team, the Chicago Bulls, won six championships – three of which were in consecutive years.


So what is the takeaway lessons from Michael Jordan?

  • Use your disappointments as a source of motivation to reach higher and farther than before.
  • Never lose faith in the fact that through determination and faith, all things will ultimately work together to your good if you are willing to stand up again and dust yourself off.
  • Remember, hardship not only forms our character but also reveals it.

3. Take The Time To Find The Greater Lesson

You have probably heard the saying – which is more of a wistful lament “if I knew then what I know now.” It is more times than not associated with an expression of regret for roads not traveled, and actions not taken.

However, I also believe that it is a powerfully reflective statement that comes wrapped in the moral of your story or experience. When you come through a difficult period and are looking at it from the other side, what have you learned?

bigger picture

While you may never fully understand why the cloud of disappointment hung over you for a period of time, you can (and will) gain a better insight into who you are, your values and your character. This in turn will enable you to make better decisions going forward, and in the context of a bigger picture.

It will also make you stronger, and believe me when I say this, you are much stronger than you ever imagined for having gone through the difficult times.

From my own experience, after I went through the shame of getting fired, I can now look back with gratitude.  After all, I would never have learned the essentials for career success unless I understood the consequences for not managing my reputation. This experience propelled me years later to open my own company, specializing in helping my clients to differentiate, network on all levels and showcase their best self by creating an “enduring brand”.

In this context your should ask yourself the following questions:

  • What have I learned from this experience about myself . . . and others?
  • How can I use the lesson or lessons from this experience moving forward?
  • How will this help me the next time I experience a disappointment or setback?

Into Each Life . . .

The old song Into Each Life Some Rain Must Fall, is a reminder that everyone in every walk of life experiences difficulties.

During a time of trouble, it is easy to believe that no one can understand what you are going through or, that the light at the end of the tunnel is dim if not outright black.


Just remember one thing, no matter how bleak things may seem, there is always another side through which you will emerge stronger, smarter and more able than you were before.

The future is yours to embrace and celebrate!




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2 responses to “When Disappointment Strikes: 3 Steps For Dealing With A Setback”

  1. Jim Trunick says :

    I’d hire you Roz! So funny they correct relationships over results . And largely many leaders are giving you and I job security , as they are too much results over people

    All the best

    Jim Trunick
    AIIR Executive Coach

    Sent from my iPhone

    • rozcoach says :

      I agree with whatever you say. Your wisdom, insights and experience continually WOW my clients as I forward your eletters to them.

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