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How do you normalize setbacks?

This is an excerpt from Gifted by Robert J. Schinke.

During my formative years as a researcher, I found that world-­class athletes, much like any other high-­level performer, sometimes stall in their ­careers ­because of a single setback, a potential challenge, or a perceived unpassable barrier, which happened on a specific day in a specific ­performance (18). The result is a loss in pathway, but it also suggests a deeply flawed approach. Many athletes do not recover from their setbacks ­because they have chosen and been supported in delegating the responsibility for their loss to ­people or environments believed to be outside their control—­that is, they externalize (19). Circumstances are not always ­under personal control—­people hit speed bumps, they become ill, workplaces can dissolve, and relationships sometimes disintegrate. How we choose to face and ­process ­these moments requires a carefully designed and ­measured attempt at self-­reflection, offering us the possibility of accountability, and only then, spurring further self-­development (20). Accepting setbacks and events beyond your control is a necessary part of your growth in seeking a healthy resolution when you find yourself struggling. Sometimes you can achieve resolutions through self-­reflection and recognition of your potential role in an incident or your response to it. In other scenarios you can benefit from a trusted ­family member, mentor, friend, colleague, or an ally ready to challenge your thinking and absolution. An efficient turnaround time and challenge to anger, fear, or sadness are often what ­people need most as opposed to ­acceptance of loss, the reinforcement of apathy, or the minimizing of a current situation by ­people meant to be supportive. You might find yourself in a challenging or uninspiring situation by circumstance, but you ­will remain ­there for indefinite periods of time by your own design (21).

Setbacks are often caused by systemic competing forces. One Olympic aspirant had a fractured support team, in which one team member chose not to work with the rest of the team staff in the athlete’s final lead-up to a qualifying event. The athlete asked the group for emotional support in the quest to resolve a stumbling block—­the lack of communication among staff. As ­those in the meeting listened to the saddened athlete traveling on a disintegrating pathway, several expressed a wish for this person’s sadness, a symptom of a deeper prob­lem, to dissipate. While the upset athlete spoke, the ­others attempted to reassure the athlete but not to resolve the origin of the prob­lem, which was the competing choice between forces of alienation or collaboration. I responded by encouraging the athlete to challenge the surrounding staff (­those of us who ­were on the call) to work from a collaborative playbook, with the athlete prioritized over personal wants, needs, or past differences. The athlete could attempt to pull the staff together on a tight timeline, accept the fractured staff as inevitable, and work within the existing limitations, or she could reimagine the support network and take the necessary steps to engineer a modified team. The athlete was stuck at the epicenter of a stalled ­process and had to ­either choose the status quo or envision and then reengineer alternate resolutions. The status quo—­the prevailing force pulling the athlete away from a synergistic team—­took the athlete only so far ­toward her dream, where it could almost be touched but sadly remained out of reach. Often, the right path is in the short-­term conflictual and uncomfortable, yet it is necessary to challenge an unhealthy structure in need of change. Plants sometimes need more nutrients in the soil, and sometimes they need to be repotted ­because the roots are unhealthy. Likewise, you might need to reconsider ele­ments in your support team to ensure every­one is pulling in the same direction and the team is healthy.

More Excerpts From Gifted