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Healthy Ways to Handle Setbacks

Repeatedly in her early career, Jahren's grant proposals were denied or didn't produce the funding she needed. She was not accepted at conferences by her peers in ways she would have preferred. Her life did not go as she had hoped or planned.
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A few days ago I finished reading Lab Girl by scientist and University of Hawaii at Manoa professor Hope Jahren. While the book is a memoir about her childhood being a professor's daughter, how she has coped with being a female scientist in a male dominated profession, and touches briefly on her manic depression, what was most poignant for me was the way she handled setbacks.

Repeatedly in her early career, Jahren's grant proposals were denied or didn't produce the funding she needed. She was not accepted at conferences by her peers in ways she would have preferred. Her life did not go as she had hoped or planned.

Dig In Your Heels

But instead of curling into the fetal position and giving up when being dealt a blow--as can be the natural feelings during times of setback--Jahren dug her heels of her boots in harder and pressed on, out to prove to herself and to the world that she could be a scientist of value. (And only she knows if she desired to be on Time's 100 Most Influential People list this year).

Stop and Reflect

In an article for TechRepublic, attorney Calvin Sun writes, to stop and reflect when something negative happens. Mull over what happened, why it happened, and how you feel about it. Sun recommends determining what you can learn from the event by asking what a disinterested observer would notice or learn or done differently. (Sometimes we are too emotionally close to it to see what we can learn.)

Determining what can be learned from the situation is one way to acknowledge the experience's positive side or benefit. Henry Ford said, "Life is a series of experiences, each one of which makes us bigger, even though sometimes it is hard to realize this. For the world was built to develop character, and we must learn that the setbacks and grieves which we endure help us in our marching onward."

Vent If You Must

But if you need to express your disappointment, frustration, anger, or whatever, talk to your best friend or write a letter that you never send. In an Inc. article about how Abraham Lincoln handled setbacks, Ilan Mochari writes, "If you're angry about an outcome, give yourself an outlet for venting."
Look to the Future

Once you are done venting and figuring out the benefits of what happened, then look to the future. Just because something didn't happen once, doesn't mean it won't happen. In Raise Rules for Women: How to Make More Money at Work, my co-author Laura C. Browne and I write that just because you're told "no" to a raise right now does not mean that the possibility of a raise is not in your future. Wait a bit. Then ask again.

Or as Jahren writes in chapter three of her book, "A seed knows how to wait....A seed is alive while it waits." She then compares an acorn to a 300-year-old tree saying that neither is growing. They are just waiting. That's where we and the seed and the tree differ, while we wait, we have opportunity to grow. And that growth can help us reach our next milestone, overcome possible future setbacks, and launch us into our future selves.