Embracing The Setback

I was working on a project last night that wasn’t going particularly well.

In fact, I had been avoiding it for the last year or so, and I remembered last night why this wasn’t done before as my usual modus operandi of:

  • tacking the project head on
  • getting reminded by a kick in the face of why I had abandoned it previously and
  • ultimately reaching a frustration threshold that required putting the project on hold again

was already in full swing.  

And then I remembered something, from the Hagakure,

“Seven times down.  Eight times up.”

I’ve written before about increasing one’s awareness for potential lessons that you can learn from a given situation, but I think it’s important to revisit this area periodically as it can be a stumbling block.

Old Definitions

I used to get really frustrated when things didn’t work out.  Admittedly, my capacity to fail at things is world class.  For a long time my success rate for projects turning out positively as I expected them to was about 5%.

I would look at those situations, and analyze them endlessly to try to figure out what was wrong and see what I could learn from them.

But there was a commonality with the 90-95% failure rate.

That commonality was me.

Re-defined results

Once I stopped blaming external forces, and started taking on the blame, I realized that this issue wasn’t execution – it was expectation.  I had expectations of making things work through sheer force of will, even when a more objective observation would have revealed that financial, technical or scheduling shortcomings were things that could not always be overcome by sheer force of will.

So I started working on a modified time set.  I didn’t worry about how long it took for me to get something down.  I didn’t worry about having to have something perfect.  I just did the best work that I could do, and did it as often as I could.

If I had written my first guitar book and expected it to set the world on fire, I would have been crushed at never getting it out the door.

Instead, I developed another project and used the skills and focus from the first project to make a better book.

My print editions are now getting proper covers – some of them TWO YEARS after I wrote them.  If I settled on a crappy design and locked myself into that two years ago, I would have had something amateurish that I would have been ashamed of.  Now I have something I can stand behind.

That never would have happened if I had been in a rush.  If I had had expectations that it was going to be perfect or be nothing.

Now I have 10 books that I’ve written (8 of them published).  I’ll write more.  But if I had stopped when the first (still unpublished one) didn’t pan out – I never would have completed the others.

You will face setbacks in whatever you do.  The reason to embrace them is that if you have a setback, it’s because you’re doing something.

Consider this for a moment.  If you try to move 100 small things forward and 95 of them fail – you’re still 5 things further ahead than you were.

So now I’m plowing through that project – as painful and slow going as it is – not because I have to get it done, but because the intertia in getting that thing done will act as fuel for all the other things I have to do.

And there’s a lot to do.

I hope this helps!

As always thanks for reading.