Setbacks as opportunities

Setbacks are opportunities to begin again more intelligently.

Henry Ford said that. Is it true? Or are setbacks signs of failure, or perhaps embarrassing announcements to the world that you don’t know what you’re doing? Or indeed, perhaps calling a ‘mistake’ a ‘setback’ is mere semantics? Let’s take a look at those two points of view and see what we can make of them.

Seeing setbacks as opportunities keeps you in a positive frame of mind, and therefore perhaps more willing to begin again. Seeing them as a way to begin again more intelligently is great–provided you learned something from the setback. In this way, setbacks can also teach us how not to make similar–uh–setbacks again.

Seeing setbacks as opportunities may also bring you one step closer to your goal: When you walk up to a door and push it open and it remains closed, you have an opportunity to try again. You might pull it. When it still doesn’t open you might slide it open. Every time the door doesn’t open, you have moved one step closer to opening it–provided you have learned not to keep pushing it.

On the other hand, as Shakespeare pointed out, ‘A rose by any other name would smell as sweet’. In other words, you can call a rose a possum but it would still smell the same, just as you can call a setback an opportunity but you still have had a setback. Calling it something else is just self-delusion and maybe even hypocrisy. Putting a positive label (opportunity) on a negative event (setback) might make you feel better but it doesn’t change the situation.

Furthermore, it’s unrealistic to go through life  expecting to have only opportunities and no setbacks; after all, a good portion of our experience is gained through hard-won life lessons, otherwise known as setbacks and mistakes. Without them, none of us would be the people we are.

So what is the answer? Should we call a spade a spade or a digging implement? Should we call a setback a setback or an opportunity? Perhaps it doesn’t matter. Perhaps what matters is our attitude towards the event. We can see it as an insurmountable obstacle and use it as an excuse for giving up. We can let these events defeat us or we can look for what they can teach us. We can see them as useful information about what we’re doing and a way to keep on learning.

Perhaps that is the answer to this semantical dilemma. Whether we call them setbacks or opportunities, when they occur, the thing to do is take a breath and try something else.

Discussion questions

What do you think–are setbacks the opportunity to begin again more intelligently?

If you read my previous post, How to get top marks on your essays, did you recognise the format I used: thesis – antithesis – synthesis, topped and tailed with an introduction and conclusion? What did you think? I must say, I enjoyed writing it using the format and it certainly made me think a bit more deeply than I might otherwise have done.