How to Use Setbacks as Energy 


In the last two months, I had major physical and career setbacks. 

On the health front, I got a stomach virus after eating ice cream at McDonalds. That took me out for more than a week. When I recovered from the virus, my IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome) started to flare up.

I’ve had IBS for years now. Mine can be quiet for months at a time, but when it starts (usually after a virus or something bad I ate), the discomfort stays for a long time.

Nearly every day for the past two months, I’ve had stomach pain. And to make matters worse, our family business (we’re a supplier of professional laundry equipment) experienced a major disruption as well. 

Our engineer, who’s also a personal friend of mine, called in sick last month. At first, he said he was under the weather, but later, he admitted he no longer wanted to do this work. He wants to switch careers.

He started working for our company in January, less than ten months prior. We invested a lot of time and money in this hire, and he was taking on more responsibilities. Now, our workflow took a huge hit and we’re all scrambling to maintain consistency.

This is naturally the risk of entrepreneurship. People can get sick or quit on you at any time. But when it comes suddenly and especially at a very busy time, it’s tough.

Combined, these two setbacks increased my stress levels. 

Setbacks can harm you or strengthen you

I believe our natural response to setbacks is stress. When you deal with loss, sickness, conflict, or uncertainty, you get that heavy feeling in your stomach.

Your mood becomes dark. You start feeling less energetic. Your instincts tell you to run.

For some people, that type of stress lasts only a few hours, but for others, it can go on for weeks or months.

What matters is that you don’t get stuck in those negative feelings. Because when you don’t address your setbacks, you start to get emotionally scarred.

There’s another option: You can see every setback in your life as an opportunity to get smarter, stronger, better.

Here’s what J.K. Rowling said about setbacks:

“The knowledge that you have emerged wiser and stronger from setbacks means that you are, ever after, secure in your ability to survive. You will never truly know yourself, or the strength of your relationships, until both have been tested by adversity.”

Rowling has dealt with long-time abuse, depression, and suicidal thoughts before she famously created the Harry Potter series.

She obviously found a way to get through her adversity and get better. Isn’t this the way to go?

Understand that the setbacks you’re facing will only make you stronger. With that knowledge, you can change your perspective on what happens in the present.

Save yourself a lot of sorrow

I’ve trained myself to use setbacks as energy. Every time I experience something that causes stress or negativity, I say:

“Good, another opportunity to get wiser and stronger.”

Because most of us eventually figure out that it’s a waste of time and energy to get lost in our own sorrow. Look, it’s okay to feel sorry for yourself in the moment.

“Oh no! Poor me! My life sucks.”

OK, now what? No one’s life is easy. Just move on. Everything that happens to you can be turned into a source of energy.

You can choose to use your setbacks as fuel that pushes you to action.

For instance, I took my IBS episode as a sign to double down on my exercise and healthy eating routines. The more cardio I do, and the more I watch what I eat, the better I feel. While the pain won’t disappear completely, I do feel better. 

With the family business situation, we all learned a lesson in having backup plans, even if you think you can rely on certain people. We’re now more motivated to build a better team.

As you go about your journey, remind yourself that you have much more potential than you think. As Thomas Edison once said:

”If we all did the things we are capable of doing, we would literally astound ourselves.” 

Try not to let setbacks stop you. Instead, turn it into fuel to get you going forward. You can make so much more progress than you think. As long as you focus on the things that matter most to you.

Read Next: