Whenever you take on a new challenge, you always start off with a blissfully naive sense of optimism that everything you do is going to work and that you’re going to be massively successful.
New businesses, new jobs, diet and exercise programs, and even new relationships all start that way.
But then inevitably you encounter your first major setback.
You send resumes to companies that you are a perfect match for and forget an interview, you don’t even get so much as a rejection notice.
You spend hundreds or thousands of dollars on your first marketing campaign thinking that your business is about to explode, and then it generates no sales at all.
You bust your butt in the gym thinking that you’re going to get washboard abs like a Calvin Klein model, yet the fatty bulge on your stomach remains unphased.
You think you’ve found the perfect man or woman, and then you have your first big fight.
You put up a new website expecting to see the hit counter spin out of control, and three months later you still have no visitors.
I know what you’re thinking, because I’ve been there too. “WTF? Why me?”
You think that you’ve somehow been singled out for a kick in the ass. You look at all the examples of people who succeeded at what you’re trying to do and wonder why they had it so easy and you have it so tough.
You’ve barely just started and already you’re ready to give up.
However, the real problem isn’t the setback itself. It’s how you respond to the setback that makes it feel like such a devastating blow.
Setting Your Expectations
Experienced sales people know that most of their job is about setting expectations. Disappointment only happens when there is a gap between what the client expected and what they actually got.
The first big setback feels so devastating because when we allow ourselves to fantasize about how well our plans are going to work out, you open yourself up to get completely blindsided by it.
When you tackle a new big project in your life you need to not only sell yourself the fantasy of the uncontrollable flow of money, power, love, and excitement you will get from your new venture, but you need to set your own expectations.
In fact, when I start something new I specifically look for the challenges I should expect to face so that when they come up I’m not surprised by them.
For example, if I start a brand new website and no one shows up right away, it’s helpful to know if that’s typically what I should expect. If I didn’t know that it takes a while to build an audience and viewership, I might wrongly assume that I’d done something wrong or was a failure if I kept looking at Google Analytics and seeing that I only had 3 visits and they were all me looking at my own site.
Or if I’m a new sales person who sits down with a list of leads to call, it might be helpful to know that the expected close rate on this particular lead source was only about 3%–ie, 97 out of 100 people I call will NOT buy from me. It would be heartbreaking if I had my world rocked because I thought I was supposed to close them all and I didn’t even come close.
People sometimes accuse me of being negative because when they ask me for advice I tell them about all the shit that’s going to happen. The point is not to dissuade them, but to prepare them to meet the challenges that they will inevitably face.
Uncovering Potential Setbacks
There are two good ways of uncovering the major setbacks that you should not only NOT try to avoid, but actually expect to happen:
- Read a book or case study by someone who has already done it.
- Find someone who has done it and talk to them about it.
Nothing is as helpful as the wisdom of someone who has already successfully walked the path before you. And in this day and age nearly everything you might possibly attempt has been done by someone. The story of it is often available on Amazon for $10 or less.
If possible, surround yourself with mentors and people who are on the same path as you. In his book Your First 100 Million, Dan Pena describes his sudden shift in perspective when he sheepishly admitted to the older men at his country club that he was being sued for the first time. He was cursing his luck, thinking “why me?” and that the universe somehow had it out for him.
To Dan’s surprise, soon all of the older men in the locker room were reminiscing about the first time they were sued. He learned that getting sued was almost considered a right of passage on the path of building a large business.
Without that critical insight, instead of moving past the setback and building a $400 million company, Dan might have just given up because “life wasn’t fair” and “other guys had all the luck.”
The Cautiously Optimistic Path
Setbacks are a part of life.
The secret to success stories of people who have already done what you are trying to do is that they had to push past the exact same setbacks that you are experiencing and staid the course long enough to succeed (even if the white washed version of the story they tell afterwards doesn’t include the despair they felt at times).
Your best inoculation against being blindsided by setbacks is to recognize when you are being over-optimistic and actively seek out not only the path to success, but learn about what could (or will) go wrong along the way.
Where in your life have you been really fired up for a new project only to abandon it at the first sign of trouble?
Without judging yourself and knowing that the experience was actually important to your personal growth, how could the situation have been different if you had known what challenge awaited you beforehand?