How To: Turn a Setback Into a Success

Today I want to talk to you about setbacks…

Last year I applied to San Diego Comic-Con as a professional.

For those of you that don’t know, badges for the holiest of nerd events are separated into three categories: Attendee, Press and Professional.

I had been running this site for 4 years, published a book, given geek-fitness panels to packed rooms at east coast conventions, and been hosting a comic-book news and review podcast for 3 years. I figured I was a lock.

I was wrong.

I don’t know why being declined bothered me so much, but when I opened the email letting me know I had been declined due to not having sufficient credentials a feeling of failure washed over me. It was like every setback in my life decided to traipse out of the recesses of my brain and mock me. For at least a week I felt like a total failure; that I was never going to succeed…

I felt like I was wasting my time.

Of course that is total nonsense, but it took me a bit to remember to be kind to myself and remember that with the right mindset, not only could I move on from setbacks that befall me, but that I can also turn them into opportunities for growth.

Let’s talk about how to push past whatever obstacle you’re facing and turn it into a positive, okay?

I am not going to sit here and tell you that these sorts of setbacks don’t take the wind out of my proverbial sails, because they do.

If I am being completely honest, my sails have been deflated for a solid three months.

  • The site was hacked, and it took some serious work to get it properly restored and locked down
  • I lost a 2000 word article that was almost ready for publication in the restore
  • Two major projects related to the site, that I was in the midst of working on, crashed and burned
  • I badly sprained my knee training, and tweaked my neck enough to require a MRI

It was bad, but it wasn’t something I couldn’t work through.


It took me awhile to remind myself that every setback offers the opportunity to ask yourself, “Will I let this make me better?”

I hear you already… “But how exactly do you do that?” Well, I’m glad you asked!

When Facing a Setback, Pause and Look Around

When dealing with a setback, take a deep breath and look around...Very first thing you should do after a setback, is take stock of the situation.

The human fight-or-flight response to stress has its place, but in a lot of cases it is pretty counter-productive.

Don’t get me wrong; I completely understand the knee-jerk response to go all “HULK, SMASH!!!” when things start to slide sideways on you, but when you hit a snag in your plans the better course of action might be stopping and taking a deep breath instead.

Have you ever driven in snow or ice? Anyone who has been on the road in that situation knows that, if you start sliding, yanking the steering wheel is a recipe for disaster. Keeping a loose grip on the wheel (or even letting go at certain times) is actually safer, even if it may be completely counter-intuitive.

What if you come face-to-face with an angry dog? Stay calm, use a soothing voice, look around for the owner, and don’t run. That is a race you aren’t going to win no matter how many 5ks you participate in.

Same thing if you are swimming in the ocean and get caught in the current. Stay calm. As scary as it may be, letting yourself get pulled out by the riptide allows you to conserve energy and swim to shore once you are out of the dangerous current.

Round the corner and run face-first into the Avengers fighting off a Chitauri invasion? Take a moment before turning tail and make sure you aren’t running face first into a rampaging Leviathan waiting to eat your face.

What I am trying to say is, when the going gets rough or you’re facing a difficult problem, sometimes the best course of action is taking a deep breath, collecting yourself, and looking around to determine where the challenge is actually taking you before you make a decision.

Freaking out and overreacting to setbacks or obstacles will probably just make things worse. When in doubt, pause.

Remember You Aren’t Alone

Remember, everyone has faced setbacks. You are not alone!I don’t care who you are, at some point you are going to fail.

All of your heroes, all of the people you respect, the absolute best in the world at anything, have all stared setbacks and failure right in the face.

Here are just a few luminaries in their field that overcame adversity:

  • J.K. Rowling – Shortly after college she was divorced, jobless, a single parent, and as poor as possible to be in modern Britain, without being homeless. Then she wrote Harry Potter.
  • Albert Einstein – As a child he could not speak fluently until the age of nine, was expelled from school, and finally was refused admittance to the Zürich Polytechnic School. Then he won the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1921.
  • Walt Disney – He dropped out of school at a young age, couldn’t cut it in the army, bankrupted Laugh-o-Gram Studios, and was fired from a Missouri newspaper for “not being creative enough.” Then he founded Disney Studios.
  • Michael Jordan – The fact that in his early years of playing basketball coaches thought he was too short aside, listen to his own words… “I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.” That is coming from one of the greatest players of all time!

When you are facing a major setback, take comfort in the fact that others have faced challenges and come out ahead too.

I recommend that after you take that initial, cleansing breath that you think about an idol of yours in the field/area/profession where you experienced the setback, or obstacle, and then do a little research. Did they ever face a similar problem? If so, how did they push through and move on to success?

Luckily, in this day and age, there are so many interviews and biographies available on the Interwebs that finding the answer shouldn’t be that difficult.  Studying how others have overcome setbacks can give you the tools and techniques necessary to succeed.

Not to mention, taking a break to research will help take your mind off the setback at hand!

Adapt and Grow!

Use setbacks as an opportunity to grow.I don’t know what exact lessons I learned as a child that informed my view on life as a younger man, but at some point in my youth I latched onto two similar misguided lessons:

  • “You were the best at something, or what was the point of trying?”
  • “Failure meant you weren’t good enough.”

For the longest time I held on to those beliefs that my worth as a human being was somehow directly tied to whether or not I accomplished the things I set out to, and that ultimately my ability to succeed was carved in stone.

It was a fixed mindset that allowed for no real personal growth.

A setback isn’t necessarily a sign of a flaw, it’s an opportunity… a challenge to rise to, and a chance to grow!

In order to turn a setback into a success you must have a growth mindset. You have to believe that:

  • Your basic qualities are things you can cultivate through your efforts
  • The value in an experience is what you learn from it, not whether you “succeed” or “fail”
  • In order to make progress you have to embrace challenges
  • Immediate perfection is a fallacy

“It takes 20 years to make an overnight success.”Eddie Cantor

Of course, this is easier said than done, especially when you’re feeling down about missing out on a promotion at work, losing a big game, spraining your knee, or having 5 years of work almost wiped out by some @$%&ing hacker. The key is to use your setback to motivate change.

Don’t let a setback, or a failure, define you; let it spur you into action!

After a setback ask yourself question like:

  • “What can I learn about myself from what happened?”
  • “What changes can I make that will produce a different result in the future?”
  • “What other avenues can I use to get to the same desired end result/destination?”

For instance, following the hacking of the site, and those unnamed projects I was asked to be a part of going belly up, I suffered a major motivational crash.

I didn’t want to write. I didn’t feel like my message was reaching enough people to warrant the amount of effort it took to rebuild the site and keep going. I felt like every time I found a new way to reach more people that it would ultimately end with the football being yanked out from under me at the last second…

So I took a little time (admittedly too long, but that is a different story,) thought about what I was trying to accomplish (reach as many people I can and spread the Laws of the Jerd Herd,) and tried to find a new way to accomplish that goal that I hadn’t attempted before.

I realized I needed a fresh approach in order to maintain my personal level of motivation… so I pulled the trigger and started the Geek Fitness Matters Podcast.

The overall goal stays the same (spread the geek fitness message) but I am just distributing it differently (spoken word vs written word) and not relying on other people to build the opportunity. I am creating the opportunity for myself.

I didn’t let my self-pity and frustration kill my goal, I adapted to get around it. And, bonus effect, I feel motivated to write again! W00t!

Besides, adding yet another podcast to my resume might just help tip me over the edge for that coveted San Diego Comic-Con Professional badge, right?

Redefine Success

Sometimes a setback really isn't... redefine how you view success!One of the biggest problems people have when setting their personal goals is quantifying what success means.

In fact, identifying a quantifiable outcome is something I can’t seem to stop talking about; whether it’s in articles on goal-setting or in podcasts about how to turn “failures” into “successes.”

But not only is it important to know what you consider success it’s as, if not more, important to know why you consider something a success.

What you view as success will color how you deal with failure or setbacks!

I want you to take a minute and ask yourself, “What does success mean to me?” Does it mean:

  • Earning a perfect performance review at work?
  • Writing a best-selling novel?
  • Saving enough money to buy a new car or house?
  • Landing a dream part on Broadway or TV?
  • Becoming a champion in our preferred sport?

Don’t get me wrong, those are noble and worthy goals; but the problem is that when you don’t achieve the lofty things you have idealized as success, it can be a real blow to the ego, and it can tank your motivation to move forward.

Personally, I think a much better approach is to redefine the meaning of success. Is success really about adding more line items to your resume, or is it about continually striving to live a better life?

I think best-selling author Brad Meltzer really puts things into perspective in this inspiring TEDx Talk. 

For me, personally, I have decided to focus a large portion of my energy towards goals that affect others, rather than pad my “ego-resume.” When I am gone, I want to have a legacy… a legacy of helping others; and whether or not Comic Con International recognizes me as a professional or not really doesn’t $%#@ing matter.

As I get older this train of thought becomes more and more pertinent to me.

As I move forward in life I know I will face more setbacks, and fail many more times; but I am going to do my best to redirect my energy in a different direction so that I keep my internal momentum going, and continue to try to help as many people as I can, when I run into obstacles, or find myself sidelined due to an injury.

Also, please remember, there is nothing wrong with not being able to do something… especially if you are new at it!

All that said… What about you? How do you define success, what setbacks have you faced, and how have you overcome them?

Let me know in the comments below!

(Photo credit #1, Photo credit #2, Photo credit #3, Photo credit #4, Photo credit #5)

Editor’s Note: In a stroke of what can only be assumed is bad karma, this article was meant to be published on Monday… except the site crashed; further rubbing this whole setback theme right in my face.

PS: If you want help becoming a real-life superhero, then make sure to get your copy of “The Heroes’ Transformation Guide and support the site. Don’t wait!

PPS: Also, be sure to get your free e-book, “The 7 Fitness Obstacles Newbies Face” by subscribing to our mailing list… (no spam, I promise!)

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4 replies
  1. Tammie Young
    Tammie Young says:

    I am so glad I got this email today. It was exactly what I needed. In December I had my first incident of SVT (superventricular tachycardia), it was very scary. My heart would race 240 beats per minute for no reason. This seriously but a stop to any weight loss activity I was trying to do. I had to focus more on my diet and really monitor myself even with easy, low impact exercises. The medication I had to start, lowered my heart rate but made it even more difficult to lose weight. Over the last 5 months I have felt like I’m climbing a hill with a huge rock that just keeps getting bigger. That being said, looking back I do see that I probably would not have watched my diet as closely as I had if it hadn’t been a necessity. I have not lost weight but I haven’t gain any either. So I’m no farther from my goal than I was before. I have experimented with different exercises that I would not have tried before. And honestly I do feel healthier. Yesterday I had a cardiac ablation that will hopefully cure my SVT. As weird as it may sound, at least to me anyway, I can’t wait to start working out again! I think I am more determined to meet my goal than before. As always, thank you so much for taking the time to share your articles, some of us look forward to them 🙂

    • TheJerd
      TheJerd says:


      You had the ablation? My wife was diagnosed with SVT years ago, and she opted against having that done… I am interested in hearing how things are after the procedure!

      Thanks so much for being a reader of the site, and take care!

      • Tammie Young
        Tammie Young says:

        Hi Jeff,
        Yes, I had the ablation on the 20th at St. Joe’s in Towson. It took me a few months to opt for the procedure, but I’m terrible at remembering to take meds… and having my heart stopped by adenosine was not something I ever want to experience again. Procedure lasted about 2 hours. I was released from the hospital 4 hours later. No issues so far. Recovery went well, a little soreness the first 2 days. Now everything is back to normal. No meds, no SVT so far. Hope that helps, let me know if you have any specific questions. I’ll let you know how things go from here!


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