Turning a setback into a comeback

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In these tough times, it’s more important than ever to support each other, and dig into the strategies that will help us overcome adversity and thrive.

That’s one of the key purposes of Power Moves, a new virtual series that aims to help women architects overcome the challenges they’re facing right now. Based on AIA’s Women’s Leadership Summit—the largest leadership event for women in architecture—Power Moves kicked off this week with the first of three powerful professional development sessions designed to help women architects build virtual networks with other women in architecture, get tips and successful tactics for overcoming professional and personal challenges, and learn key strategies to succeed in end-of-the-year negotiations.

I had the pleasure of hosting the first keynote-style webinar of the series, “Build Your Foundation NOW: Transforming a Setback into Your Greatest Comeback,” where one of the key takeaways was learning how to work through the five stages of a setback to increase productivity levels.

So what exactly are the five stages of a setback? Well, my friends, they look a lot like the five stages of grief or loss. Each of us has lost something this year: a job, a promotion, income, clients, teammates or staff, time to ourselves, time with our friends and family, travel plans and much needed vacations, and in the worst case scenarios, possibly even loved ones due to COVID-19 or other circumstances.

When we experience significant loss, we experience the grieving process. Whether we realize it or not, this process can substantially set us back or paralyze us in our personal and professional lives. We don’t experience the same level of energy that we are used to, we may not feel like ourselves, and moving forward can feel much more challenging than it normally would.

Here are the five stages of grief, loss -- or, in this case, a setback -- and how you can work through them strategically:

Denial

The Setback: In the first stage of a setback, we are in a state of shock. Think back to when the global pandemic first began or when you first realized that you were losing something important or meaningful to you. Did you believe it was really happening? Did you think that the pandemic discussion was being blown out of proportion? Were you feeling overwhelmed by the idea that life might change drastically in a very short amount of time?

The Comeback: If you’re in this state right now, assess the landscape. Read the room and observe what is really happening versus what is assumed or based on fear, not fact. The more you are able to objectively observe the reality of the situation, the sooner you will advance to the next stage of a setback.

Anger

The Setback: The second stage of a setback is one in which we reflect on what is happening to us. We feel regretful of our decisions to do - or not do - something that would have put us in a better position, and we likely ask the questions, “why me?” or “why now?”

The Comeback: In this stage, it is important to assess what is in your control and what is not. What are you responsible for, and could you have really predicted that a disruptor was coming? The answer is likely no. Being able to identify the areas in which you were unable to change the course of your future without knowing what would come your way is the best way to find peace in knowing that you made the right decisions for you, based on the information you had at that time.

Bargaining

The Setback: The third stage of experiencing a life-changing setback is a tricky one. During stage three, we decide to try to manipulate or change reality to make it something more appealing or acceptable to us. At this time, we may attempt to negotiate with the universe, higher powers, or even with ourselves. We say things like “if only the pandemic ends in two months, I’ll be okay,” or “I promise to do this if you just do this one thing for me.” The sticky part of this stage is that though we’re trying to change our current situation, the truth is that we have little to no control over the enormity of the crisis: in this case, a global pandemic.

The Comeback: The best thing you can do to transition out of this stage is to start to consider whether there might be a silver lining hiding in your new reality. Could this door be closing so another can open? Letting your mind wander toward optimism will allow you to begin imagining an alternative, even better path.

Depression

The Setback: When we realize that we in fact have little to no say in changing the state of a globally crippling crisis, we can become depressed. We feel hopeless and withdrawn, saddened by our current reality, and can become disinterested in doing things we once loved or connecting with people we would otherwise reach out to.

The Comeback: If you’re experiencing this stage right now, do everything you can to push past your lack of energy and motivation to connect with others and find community. Text your sister. Call your best friend. Set up a virtual coffee chat with one of your favorite colleagues. The best thing you can do for yourself in this state is to get out of your own funk. Not only will having conversations with people you love give you energy, but it will begin to transform your mindset and help you support others who are struggling.

Acceptance

The Setback: Finally, we reach the fifth stage of a setback: acceptance. Most times there is not any big, life-changing moment that propels us into this stage, but we have spent enough time in the other stages that we finally accept our new normal and begin to think about how we will move forward in our current reality.

After you reach the stage of Acceptance, it is imperative that you set yourself up to be productive and make progress, so you get out of that “feeling stuck” phase. In order to do this, you have to focus on building joy-based momentum.  

What are the things that bring you happiness and create energy, not drain it? How are you currently spending your time? Are you investing in conversations, people, and activities that fill your cup? You have to fill your own cup before you’re able to fill anyone else’s.

One of the best strategies to ensure you’re investing in your energy is to create a morning routine where you energize yourself with uplifting reading, engaging podcasts or even a great workout. Hitting reset on your mindset first thing in the morning will completely change the trajectory of your day. In the evenings, it’s important that you create an effective “wind-down” routine, where you do things that help you recenter after a long day. Some of those activities might include journaling, practicing gratitude, or meditation. These exercises will give you an opportunity to release stress, worry and anxiety, and will allow you to fall into a higher quality sleep cycle. In between the morning and the evening, it’s still necessary to track how you’re spending your time. Are you investing in your professional development? Are you moving toward your goals, little by little?

It’s important to know that even taking one small step forward is progress. The keys to turning a setback into a comeback are investing in your mental health, connecting with the people around you, and simply moving forward -- every single day. By the end of the week, the month, or even the year, you will be an entirely different person in an entirely different stage of life.

Build Your Foundation NOW: Transforming a Setback into Your Greatest Comeback now available on-demand through AIAU. View the full webinar and learn more >

Don’t miss the next two sessions in AIA’s new virtual series, Power Moves. Leadership in Uncertainty: An Honest Conversation on Challenges & Change will share tips from three women at different stages in their careers and Negotiate with Confidence – Even in a Downturn!  will focus on negotiation skills, whether for salary, benefits, promotion, or a new role.  

Join us, and register now!

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