Setbacks: Game Over or Game On?

Josh Linkner
November 18, 2018

Josh Linkner

Five-time tech entrepreneur, hyper-growth CEO, NY Times bestselling author and venture capitalist.

What do Oprah Winfrey, Mick Jagger, and Jeff Bezos have in common? They are all incredibly successful, true, but they also have each suffered more than their share of knockdowns. Every great leader - from Gandhi to Galileo, from Beethoven and Zuckerberg - has stumbled. Those that make history also endure adversity.

A common quality among those we revere: they don't allow their setbacks to become their defining moments. Instead, they muster the resilience of a street fighter to rise up and forge ahead.

History makers say "game on" while also-rans declare "game over." The heroics aren't daring greatly, but rather rising up off the canvas every time we fall. Our ascent from the pitfalls of despair is ultimately what will shape our careers and our legacies.

We all know this, of course. But how do we actually do it? Try asking yourself these five key questions when you've stumbled, which can fuel your resolve to persevere:

1. If I'm looking back at this event five years from now, how will I tell the story? This will help put the setback in perspective, and also spark ideas on how you'll be able to bounce back.
2. While others may have some fault here too, what could I have done differently to have changed the outcome? This isn't to make yourself feel bad, but rather to extract the educational value and avoid making the same mistakes twice.
3. What's the big lesson here, and how valuable will this lesson be to me over the rest of my life? A $500 mistake can sting, but if the lesson learned is worth 100-times that over time, it was a savvy investment in your future instead of a shameful mistake.
4. How would Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Ella Fitzgerald, Steven Spielberg, or Mother Theresa respond? Of course, feel free to substitute your own personal heroes, but drawing on the wisdom of others can help you navigate a tough situation.
5. What is my very first step to rise back? A 1000-point plan can be overwhelming, but leaping into action with that first step is incredibly powerful, even if it is a baby step. One step begets the next, eventually creating unstoppable momentum.

Stumbling is part of life. If you're not messing up at times, you're probably not going hard and fast enough. The goal, therefore, isn't to avoid adversity at all costs but rather to extract every ounce of value from our losses. Setbacks can become a badge of honor rather than a scarlet letter if we lean in and rise up.

Adversity is inevitable. For you, will it signify game over or game on?

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