For the past couple of months, I’ve been working away on a couple of projects, and it seems I keep  encountering one setback after another. Either that, or progress is just slower than I’d like. That could very well be the case since this whole thing has been a terrific test of my (lack of) patience.

Today has been particularly depressing. I got sick on the weekend, which set me back, and I’ve been wrestling with a chapter for what seems like weeks, which just refuses to be submitted. Whenever I think I’ve got it nailed, another little piece suddenly pops up, which means having to rewrite other sections.

And when things go poorly in one area, there seems to be a bleed through effect. Everything feels sluggish and slow.

It’s not all hopeless though. There are a couple of things I’ve discovered in this miserable process.

  1. There are a lot of cheesy quotes about setbacks
  2. Most of them involve pictures of mountains and people jumping
  3. Setbacks easily become fodder for the inner critic who is always on the lookout for more ammo to use against me. It takes a lot of energy to not take setbacks personally, as a sign that something’s wrong with me.
  4. It’s also seductive to interpret events magically, as if the setback is a sign that ‘it’s not meant to be.’ A setback is not feedback. Turning setbacks into tea leaves is just another trick of the inner critic. It might momentarily relieve me of the struggle, but it’s just a way to throw in the towel.
  5. It’s helpful to ask myself whether I’m truly encountering setbacks or did I just set my deadlines unrealistically? In other words, I set up the feeling of failure by defining progress through my arbitrary and self-imposed deadlines.
  6. It’s also helpful to remind myself of my love for endurance sports. How can I love slogging along for a hundred miles on my bike, uphill, on chip seal, in a headwind, and yet experience acute frustration when I’m stuck for 10 minutes formulating a paragraph? How can the human mind be so compartmentalized?
  7. I’ve also found it helpful to connect, talk to people, share what I’m working on, as well as the difficulties I’m having.
  8. And finally, try not to globalize it. There’s a huge temptation to throw in the towel, to decide it’s just not happening, so why not take the day off, and drop everything, even things that are going fine. I’ve learned that is the devil whispering in my ear, making it sound like some kind of earned reward when actually it is a very, very bad thing to do.

Oh wait, that’s only 8. And I wanted to write 10 tips. I’ve done it again. See, just one of those days!

15 Responses so far.

  1. Mary says:

    So in the midst of my set back, I indulged in yours! But…not for long! I love that reminder that a set back is “NOT” feedback, rather it’s an edge to sticking with it. As the Lion said in The Wizard of Oz…”ain’t that the truth, ain’t that the truth!” Ok, back to my avoided task at hand :)

  2. Mary says:

    While in the midst of my set back, I indulged in yours! I love the line about how a set back is “NOT” feedback, it’s just an edge to sticking with it. Or is it feedback that your at an edge to feeling able to stay with the distance?! :)
    Love it!

  3. Mary says:

    Oy – now I’m embarassed. I didn’t think my post, posted and now it’s out their folks – I’m totally indulging in my set back…

  4. love your “transparencie” Julie…your article is encouraging!!!

  5. Joanna says:

    “A setback is not feedback” – loving this one especially!

  6. Lisa Diamond Stein says:

    “I think whether you’re having setbacks or not, the role of a leader is to always display a winning attitude.”
    Colin Powell

  7. robin sierra says:

    Julie, each of your posts lately feel like they are speaking directly to me. thank you so much for your self disclosure. knowing the depth of who you are and how much you have put into your personal evolution, it helps to know that the struggle continues and therefore for me not to take it so personally.

    everything you wrote today is relevant to a new relationship i’m in that has tons of apparent roadblocks. at least, that’s how i tend to read the experience. your wise words help me to calm the inner critic and the one who wants to throw in the towel. (wonder where that expression originated) my lack of patience and inability to be clairvoyant wants to run or to bury myself in a mound of rocks.

    so i deeply thank you for putting it all in perspective. you couldn’t have given me a more timely gift this morning.

    here is something i wrote years ago about my dog and perseverance that you may enjoy:

    • juliediamond says:

      Thanks Robin, I appreciate your disclosure as well. And your story of Snowy and her doggedness (and yours) is just beautiful and inspiring! I’m glad you posted it here so others can read it too.

      Curious about your question, I found this about the phrase “Throwing in the towel”

      This phrase almost certainly comes from boxing, where the coach, or sometimes a teammate, will be responsible for throwing in the towel to signal that his fighter has been defeated. It has been around since the very start of the 1900s, but most likely dates back even further than that. Today, this expression is often said to show defeat not just in the ring, but in anything.

      • robin Sierra says:

        Julie, thanks so much for your generous words about my ‘doggedness’ story. snowy has been a major ally in my life and continues to inspire me. i just remembered that i was working with you at the time and you helped me process my experience with her. i had been hearing her yowling at night and was extremely distressed by it and was debating whether to intervene or not. the process we did together hekped me to decide to take her home. I had forgotten about that until now.

        love and gratitude to you

    • Rho Sandberg says:

      Thanks to you and Robin for your pieces, both very touching. I don’t think we share the frustrations enough with each other. Even more than that they are so rarely a part of our public dialogue

  8. Yelena says:

    I just read your “setbacks” post Julie.
    I love how you write about it all….life’s impossible , and its great to hear you sharing re your own experiences and the summary of results you found when exploring google. Makes me laugh! …and that boulder photo – that’s confronting… luckily in situations like that boulder in the road , there are sometimes parallel universes available to morph into. ..
    thanks for posting this

  9. Ah yes. Know this one well. Danced with it a couple months ago when my book about ‘goal-setting’ just refused to be written. Oh, the irony. I will admit, I finally did put it aside… consciously, because as much as i fought it, I knew myself enough to know that there must be some inner conflict, some piece of the message I wasn’t yet clear on that kept turning this thing into a monster. As much as I had huge expectations for this thing to get done at a certain time – I had to let it go for now until i could resolve whatever uncertainty I had about this thing. Yes, there is a place for plodding along, persevering,and all that – and a time to admit that something’s not done cooking yet. Peace, Gina

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