How to Rebound from Setbacks
Markets crash. People die. Scary diagnoses are issued. Jobs are lost. Homes are lost. And for many Americans, it feels like the last few years have hit them with more than their fair share of these sorts of traumas, proving true the adage, "When it rains, it pours."
I've certainly been through a number of my own, personal worst-case scenarios, but have come out the other side with a vastly expanded understanding of my own inner resources and a great appreciation for life's possibilities.
Once you prove to yourself what you're really made of, as often happens in recovery from a crisis, you take that confidence, that knowledge and those problem-solving skills with you as you face life's incessant stream of incoming challenges.
That's resilience... And this quality -- resilience -- is precisely the subject of U.S. News and World Report journalist Rick Newman's new, hopeful and useful book, "Rebounders: How Winners Pivot From Setback to Success."
The book starts out with Newman's own transparent tale of his own life, family, financial and career struggles in the aftermath of his divorce, just as the traditional newspaper industry was being derailed by the advent of online news -- and the takeaways he gleaned from the experience, including that hard work doesn't always pay off without a strategic plan also in place.
But the meat of "Rebounders" is a series of detailed stories of figures in business, politics, philanthropy and culture -- stories of rebounders who experienced and recovered from all manner of devastating failures and traumatic disasters on their paths to achieving an assortment of heroics, from becoming our national heroes, like Ben Franklin and Thomas Jefferson, to helming companies such as Pandora and Netflix.
Newman vividly tells these stories, then deftly uses them to surface dozens of nuanced insights with the power to spark and call forth the individual flavor of resilience within every reader. That said, there are also some overarching themes around what it takes to be resilient that Newman sets out at the very start. Here are the four most pervasive insights he provides:
1. "Setbacks can be a secret weapon." Newman relates that the unanimous message of his interview and research subjects was that the lessons and skills they had acquired in the process of overcoming their setbacks were much more pivotal to their success than the moments when everything finally came together. In fact, in providing the precise definition of resilience, Newman points to the strength, smarts and durability that develop in the process of pushing past fear, failures and "quit points."
2. "Small adversities matter, just like big ones." Small disappointments and frictions, like getting stuck in traffic or having a chronic, but relatively mild, illness, can seem unworthy of our attention especially when compared to all the tragedies and chaos we witness on news reports. However, Newman argues that we can harness small failures and dramas to build our resilience muscles, giving ourselves what he calls a "stress inoculation" that will allow us to recover from much larger life upsets whenever they do inevitably arise.
3. "We're all addicted to alluring shortcuts and incomplete slogans." Newman points to example after example in which people get or stay on the wrong, failure-prone course because of their belief in pithy, partly true, but incomplete motivational slogans like "Do what you love, and the money will come." He points out that there are potential pitfalls to this reasoning, like that the work you love might be work many people love, rendering the field an uber-competitive one in which to make a living. Ultimately, these magical slogans are simply not enough to point you in the direction of success.
4. "Optimism is overrated." Optimism lives in the same bucket, in Newman's book, as these incomplete slogans, in that they both oversimplify what it will really take for most people to find success. Newman suggests that you trade both the slogans and overconfidence or optimism in for a strategic action plan that accounts, in advance, for pitfalls that are likely to be encountered, and is both heavy on the problem solving and flexible enough to allow for the adaptation and course correction you may need to do if things don't work as planned.
In this vein, Newman advocates something called "defensive pessimism," in which you envision your worst-case scenarios and prepare for them, in advance. Ultimately, this point of view is empowering and even calming, as it results in complete preparedness and, fortunately, our worst-case scenarios don't actually materialize the vast majority of the time.