Dealing with setbacks is pretty much part of life. We inflict a list of shoulds on our existence and the universe then laughs and laughs and deals us a different hand of cards to play. So how do we get back to the reality we’ve always wanted?

The first part of dealing with a setback is figuring out what you had to do with it. There are several possibilities. Were you expecting too much? Were you expecting it to just happen for free? For example, I really thought that after all this time working my ass off with CrossFit crap that I would be a better CrossFitter but what the hell is a better CrossFitter? Were my expectations out of sync with reality? In fact, I’m a damn good CrossFitter. I show up, I follow coaching prompts, I work hard. That’s pretty much the whole deal. Do I move as much iron as I would hope? No. Can I run a mile? No. Can I string together a whole mess of double unders? No.

Were my hopes pretty damn unrealistic? Yes. Because you see, I move iron, I walk fast, and I can do one damn double under at a time.

So was this a setback or just unrealistic expectations? If I label this differently and if I accept my own responsibility for my dissatisfaction, I can get past this setback, because it wasn’t one. It was just defeating self-talk.

So what about a real setback? I was an OR nurse for over a decade. I loved the job and I loved the work I did. But … isn’t there always a but? But, laparoscopy cases were increasing and Xenon light sources were giving me migraines. The job was making me physically ill. The job I loved was something that was causing me pain.

What was my responsibility in this case? None. I was a victim of circumstances. What could I do about this? I tried for years to just take a variety of medications to control the migraines and other than suicidal ideation, gaining a ton or weight, losing a ton of weight, being highly agitated and unable to sit still, and/or turning into a total slug they worked fine. Well, they mostly kept the migraines away for a while and then I would switch to the next one.

My job was going to have to change and that was a setback. This was the job I loved. I got a different one and it led me on a totally different path and a second degree, this time in computer networking. And my life went off in a totally different direction and I found I could love other things and do them well.

So how do you get past a setback? The only thing I know that works is realistically looking at the issue and then figuring out if you can conquer it or if you need to redefine who you are. I will never stop being a nurse, although I am now an unregistered one. All that stuff is still inside my head and I call upon it when needed. It’s just that I now have other layers of me on top of it.

After you have defined the problem accurately, it is time to figure out solutions. My solution to migraines was to remove myself from the triggers causing them. For the record, it worked. It wasn’t the stress of the job because no matter how much stress I’ve had since, I don’t get a migraine. So removing myself worked.

But that just led to a new series of questions. If I wasn’t going to be a nurse, what was I going to be? When I found something I could like, I did that. When it didn’t work, I quit doing it and moved on to something related but with enough difference to see if I could like that. Then I tweaked my situation and found something that would work. At least for a while.

And I think that last phrase is the key. To get over a setback, you have to define it correctly and then work your way through or around it. At least for a while. What you tried may not work at all or it may not work forever. Either way, you have moved past the initial setback and if your problem isn’t completely solved, you at least now have a new problem to work on.

By the way, your problem will never be completely solved. What worked for you when you were twenty doesn’t necessarily work when you are forty. When you figure it out by forty, it won’t work the same twenty years later, not only because you change, but because the world changes, too.

When I was twenty, the technological world I currently live in wasn’t even thought of. There was no social media, we were using punch cards and mostly doing math stuff.

The way to look at a setback which might help is that here a piece to a puzzle. Your job is to figure out where it goes to make the entire puzzle the prettiest picture it can be.