Our history is filled with stories of people who turn major setbacks, addictions, and bad decisions into a purposeful future. When Chuck Colson went to prison for his major part in Watergate, his fall from grace gave rise to a nonprofit that has become a redemptive turn around for multitudes of imprisoned inmates. He is not alone. Many others have turned their “scandal” into organizations that help the disadvantaged. In fact, second acts are part of what our culture is all about.

Setbacks happen to all of us in varying degrees.  There is no perfect day unless you are on drugs! But the issue is not setbacks, detours, obstacles, or problems. It’s what we do with them.

To despair of even life itself when we encounter a major setback is common. The Golden Gate Bridge has been the scene of many a person who experiences a major setback of some sort.  This beautiful structure is orange to reflect light, especially during the dark days of fog. The majestic San Fransisco Bay was missed for centuries because the opening was too small. This magnificent structure bridges that small opening. The bridge, suspended by cables, hangs as an engineering feet that would cost over one billion dollars today.

Yet this monument of great achievement has a dark side. This masterpiece of ingenuity and creativity has been the scene of the final act for so many. The first person to jump did so three months after the bridge’s completion.  Over 1,200 souls have committed suicide using this swaying platform as their final memory to life.  What was going through their mind when they jumped? During that 4 second fall, speeding towards the water at 75 mph, what did they think?

By hitting the water at a perfect angle, a person can survive. Of the few that survived, each had one thought in common. They all said that the moment they jumped, the first thought that went through their mind was, THEY WISHED THEY HADN’T! Some of them went on to see their life become a testimony to significance.

So often a major setback – bad decisions, cancer, divorce, job loss, the death of a loved one, alienation from family members, bankruptcy, or an accident – puts the spotlight on our lives and shows us the way to a meaningful “second act.” If you think you are too small to be effective, then you’ve never been in bed with a mosquito.

The truth? Sooner or later we all hit the skids. It happens to everyone to varying degrees. At some point we all wind up with our backs against the wall and need to turn a setback into a setup.

We all get knocked down.  Successful people know how to pick themselves back up. So how do you do it?

Here’s your guide for turning setbacks into setups. These steps will help you make a comeback.

1. Refuse to Die! When you’re down some people will write you off. Do not let them define you. Refuse to fade into a life of perpetual inconsequence.

2. Manage your Fears! Comebacks have an inner sense of justice that refuses to be violated. Manage your fears by doing something about them. Identify them.  Write them down. Know them well so you can manage them. Which fears are real threats?  Deal with them and dismiss the rest.

3. Get Motivated! Pain, failure, loss, and embarrassment are great motivators. Embrace the pain and you will internalize the lesson.  Walk toward the barking dog.  It’s the only way to begin a constructive setup.  Use pain as fuel to drive your comeback.

4. Stand in your Strengths! Lean into your weaknesses, in the sense that you understand them and can manage them.  If you don’t, they will manage you. And, if they manage you, they will damage you. But don’t stand in them. Stand in your strengths and lean into your weaknesses.

5. Get Creative! There are lots of opportunities on how you chart your course. If you want help, just ask. People want to help you; they just don’t know it yet.

6. Visualize the Results! Don’t look back. Comeback people roll with the punches and keep coming back for more. Showing up for life is 90% of the battle.

7. Take a Chance! Good things come to those who risk. Be vulnerable! Stop thinking of risk as a one shot do or die situation where you put everything on the table with one role of the dice.  Start thinking of risk as a journey of exploration. We are programmed to think risk is one careless act rather than an approach to living. Life is an adventure and you were not meant to be “stuck”.

8. Enjoy the Journey! The ultimate reward for the person making a comeback is to see his vision come to life in the real world. Look at every obstacle, setback, rejection and constraint as an opportunity to redeem yourself. The only setbacks are when we respond incorrectly. There is a bridge attached to every setback. What you do on that bridge determines your future. A few jump. Even more choose to live there. Some make the effort to keep walking – not into the sunset – but into the setup.

PS. Don’t dwell on the past, the past doesn’t care. God never made any material as resilient as the human spirit.

(For more insight on making the rest of your life, the best of your life, read Mick’s book, coauthored with noted author Bob Lorber, Who Are You? What Do You Want? 4 Questions That Will Change Your Life.)


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9 Responses
  1. Patti Townley-Covert

    Love your steps for turning setbacks into setups, Mick. They are memorable and a tremendous encouragement.

  2. This advice is especially relevant to the long-term unemployed. I know because I lived it for two years, and a positive, forward-looking attitude was essential to a good outcome. One thing I would add to these steps is to look for opportunities to help others…it’s the right thing to do and it will make you feel better about yourself.

  3. Devereaux Jones

    What clarity you have on the subject.Is it possible for the author or creator to have the insight when it comes to themselves?

  4. Mick Ukleja

    Absolutely! But feedback is the breakfast of champions. Our mutual supporters give us insights into ourselves that is hard to see on our own. Both are important.

  5. Mick Ukleja

    What a great insight, Steve. To have mutual supporters doesn’t happen automatically. Just like friendship, we have to be a mutual supporter in order to have the same. One way to create needed energy when going through a tough time is to reach out and help someone else.

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