How to live with setbacks

Life never goes as planned.

One day I may declare that I will run a marathon.  I soon begin my days at 4 am, add a healthy breakfast, and post a few pictures on Instagram to prove I’m making progress.  But nine days later I wake up late, three weeks later my 65 hour work week pushes all hobbies to the side, and three months down the road I learn my relationship is suffering and needs well deserved investment of time.  Do I even try again?

I may cut off all my relaxed hair in a moment of empowerment, grow it out for five years to celebrate the beauty of black hair, but then decide to cut it all off again for the simple reason that it’s just easier to have shorter hair.  Am I traitor to the culture?

I may make all the right decisions everyday until I’m 32.  Study, get good grades, land the ideal job, cultivate a seemingly perfect relationship, but then death, divorce, illness, or just a “whim” may bring me right back to square one with onlookers shaking their heads disapprovingly.

We try to craft routines to achieve purpose and consistency, but in reality our plans never turn out as expected. How do we deal with setbacks – whether they are the result of our own choices or just happenstance – and the disappointment from those peering into our space?

The first step is to accept that LIFE CANNOT BE LINEAR.  

Once we accept this truth, we make room for life itself.  We have such a strong desire for life to be linear that we are floored when things get turned upside down or embarrassed when others happen to notice.  This often leaves us discontent and totally preoccupied with others’ opinions that we fail to appreciate the life we have lived.

Humans are dynamic, full of sharp edges, soft spots and resilient in many ways.  Life cannot be lived linearly by beings full of twists and turns of character and desires, capable of mystery and surprise endings and suspenseful thoughts.  Life is a story meant to be experienced, not observed, and we are entitled to have a change in priorities or be subjected to events forcibly swinging against our better judgment.  The best lives are those where fears are overcome, valleys and mountains conquered, and where we are the dynamic characters with a story to tell, not models of idealism.

The second step is to STREAMLINE YOUR STIMULI.

We tend to perceive our social media timelines as having no room for error or refuse to document our setbacks.  They are mementos of life on a steady uptick, and we fail to make room for the truth that our lives are lived by humans.

Ask yourself who and what you surround yourself with.  Are they words and images of encouragement or trophies of success and gloat?  Images are important and I’d be a fool to say that we should remove them and ignore the reality of how we communicate.  The unfortunate truth is that most abuse the media through which we communicate by promoting appearances for you to judge yourself against, as opposed to sharing ideas for you to be inspired by.  Discern whether certain accounts lead you to covet someone else’s progress, relate to their journey, or (better yet) simply inspire you to personal creativity.  There is a fine line between motivation through emulation and encouragement through substance, and investing in the time to understand that distinction promotes resiliency when life swings the other direction.

And finally, CULTIVATE YOUR CONVICTIONS.

Refuse the temptation to explain or the need to justify your actions.  The more we do this, the stronger our convictions to live a full life (not perfect life) become, decreasing the likelihood that we will rely on the external to shape our contentment.  By choosing to answer only to ourselves, we can enjoy our life’s check-points (regardless of how scattered they are on our paths to personal development).  That way if we choose to share our story, we offer a more genuine presence that attracts compassionate accountability (not reproving observations).