Career advice: how to turn a setback into an opportunity

Career advice: how to turn a setback into an opportunity

A key to progress is the ability to get up when you’ve been knocked down. Here’s a powerful ‘helping hand’ to get you off the floor. It’s lifting me daily. Give it a go!

The undefeated martial arts world champion had the 200 advertising and media agency CEOs spellbound as she told her story of resilience. Her world changed instantly while at the height of her sporting prowess. The diagnosis: cancer. Then a letter arrived, from her ‘sensei’ (teacher) — her most valued mentor and coach. In it, just one sentence.

So, what are you going to do with this?

For Nadine Champion, it completely changed the way she approached her illness. She turned this massive setback into a challenge — of resolve, perseverance, and personal growth.

The magic in the sensei’s counsel is its wisdom about mindset.

If we change the way we look at something, we can use it to our benefit. Even setbacks.

Even cancer, as Nadine explained (she is fully recovered, by the way).

Now, my current so-called setbacks are ‘garden variety’ moments of turbulence along life’s flight path. For me, they are real and appear mountain-like. And the older I get, the harder it becomes to spring up off the ground when they deplete optimism and hope.

Here’s an example. A fitness and wellness ‘campaign,’ going so well — “best ever” and I felt GREAT! — and then kapowed by flu, travel, pressure and general loss of mojo…. Well, it’s agonisingly difficult to get those trainers back on, to not order the ribs, and to keep the cork in that bottle of Shiraz. That setback impacts everything for me. Everything. But now I have the sensei’s voice in my ear.

‘So Chris, what are you going to do with this?’

Sensei — I am going to work on my discipline: strengthen that aspect of my DNA. Discipline is all about doing what you need to do, when you need to do it, even when you don’t want to. I CAN improve. I can make progress again, and get back on track. Set short-term, achievable goals; make a plan; make a start; stick to it.

Another example. As a fearless hunter and gatherer helping to provide for my tribe, last week was a disaster. Two days MCing a major conference in the Hunter Valley (where I heard Nadine), then two days judging industry awards, and a day counselling two executives wanting career help, and a start-up that needed a strategy. My ‘take’ for the week? Three bottles of red wine, and one cigar. You see, it was all pro-bono. Lean in close as I tell you this startling truth…. bottles of wine, and cigars, do not pay school fees!

So I was down. Frustrated. Felt trapped. Why do I agree to do these things? Until I heard the sensei’s voice.

‘So Chris, what are you going to do with this?’

Sensei — I am going to be grateful, for what was an amazing week. I learnt so much – listening to the conference speeches, and seeing all those award entries. It sharpened my offer and helped me stay at the edge. I also made many new contacts and relationships. And I built my profile. It was a wonderful week of marketing, business development, networking and learning for me. How lucky am I!

“If you’re green, you grow. If you’re ripe, you rot”. Doug Smollan told me that seven years ago.

A setback can be a gift

Setbacks, however small (and in Nadine’s case, however big) are a gift: an opportunity to work on yourself in your never-ending journey of personal growth and challenge. To some of you, this will sound wanky and trite. Fair enough. To me, it’s very, very real.

Of course, I’d prefer not to have them ‚— the setbacks. It really does get harder over time to pull yourself off the floor when the turbulence hits.

But IF we take the sensei’s wisdom — So, what are you going to do with this? — we have a compass point for action: what can we do next to change our mindsets and energise ourselves forward, with lightness of step and a heart beating with renewed vigour?

So, what are YOU going to do with this?


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