When life doesn’t go to plan

When things don’t go according to plan, we can be left feeling frustrated at best. At worst, it can seriously impact our confidence and self-esteem. What can we do when this happens?

We talk to Edgar Obregón Morales.

Enjoying life’s journey is no easy task. We are often told to learn from life’s setbacks, but after a while, the motivation to see challenges as life lessons is likely to waver. It’s difficult enough to get through the bad times, let alone be expected to be grateful for them.

However, there is truth in the idea that career setbacks can ultimately help you to take the steps needed to move you closer to where you want to be, if they can just be viewed in a slightly different light. Over the years, I have learnt some ‘hacks’ to help me view setbacks as working in my favour, rather than against me.

Remind yourself of your end goals

I’ve been fortunate to meet a diverse range of people from different cultural and professional backgrounds. Their stories and experiences have taught me that everyone is on their own unique path. Comparing yourself to others is rarely helpful.

If I ever find that I am feeling unmotivated, fearful or frustrated, I remind myself of what I hope for in the future.

If what we’re doing brings us even a small step closer to our future goals, it means we are heading in the right direction.

Embrace continuous improvement

The more we progress in our careers, the easier it becomes to get stuck in our ways. We can begin to ignore areas of our professional lives that may require development.

There was a time in a previous job where I was facing a lot of push back from the rest of my team. I was utterly convinced that I was doing the right thing, so I couldn’t understand why they didn’t agree with my approach. However, when I took the time to pause and reflect, I came to the realisation that if my respected colleagues believe there is a better way of doing things, I should listen to what they have to say.

My confidence was shaken so I went away to carry out an honest self-assessment. I learned a difficult truth, namely that one of my biggest weaknesses was not being a good listener. I researched how to improve this skill and learnt a technique that I still use to this day.

When trying to understand another person’s point of view, I paraphrase what they’ve said and repeat it back to them. Only when they agree with my summary of their view do we start to find ways to move forward collaboratively.

As soon as I put this into practice, I found that I was able to form effective working relationships with people regardless of whether they shared the same views as me or not.

This is just one example of embracing continuous improvement. Incremental progress in any area we know we need to improve on not only helps us in our professional lives, but in our personal lives too. An honest self-assessment with no judgement can do wonders.

Visualise what you want coming true 

I took this idea from the book “Migrante” written by Guatemalan businessman Marcos Antil. He tells the story of when he launched his software company. For a long time, he had zero clients. Despite this fact, he worked tirelessly day in and day out to hone his skills and prepare for the day when clients would come knocking. Due to his agricultural background, he called this ‘sharpening his machete.’

This idea really resonated with me. I started thinking “What do I need to acquire so that I’m ready when an opportunity appears? A certain skill, a new computer, a new suit?” Once I had answers, I started working on it straight away, as if the moment was already happening. The result was that I had much more confidence and in turn, my performance improved. I was noticed by my superiors and other important stakeholders and was given more responsibility to lead on high priority projects.

These three lessons radically changed my way of working for the better.

If I could offer anyone struggling with life’s setbacks right now one piece of advice, it would be to take it one day at a time, focus on what is within your control to change, and the rest will start falling into place.  

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