Why Setbacks Are Just a Part of Our Story
October 8, 2018
We all remember a time we wanted to give up on something. A relationship that reached uncharted, rocky territory. An idea or dream that kept getting rejected over and over again.
For me, the current political climate in the U.S. has me remembering every crappy moment I went through where I thought, “You know what, maybe my actions actually don’t matter. Maybe I should just give up.”
That feeling of deflation is all too familiar to anyone who’s faced a setback. But there’s one thing that makes me hopeful again in the face of a challenge: The fact that the story isn’t over.
Orson Welles once said, “If you want a happy ending, that depends, of course, on where you stop your story.”
If you look at life this way, and, yes, even moments that feel unbearably challenging, we can remember that even when the story might feel over, it’s still unfolding. Our role in the plotline may feel miniscule, but our impact is always present, slowly shifting the world around us.
In our day-to-day, it's often hard to feel that impact. We work on the presentation that won't be wrapped for months, attend the protest to only hear that our concerns are being ignored.
But we create change in little ways on a daily basis.
Here, a few ways to feel your power in action:
Notice the Good You’re Doing
While kindness might just feel like fluff, it's actually a tangible way we’re a change agent in our day-to-day.
A 2017 study showed that small acts of kindness nudge others to be kind, too, creating a chain reaction of thoughtfulness. And the people who did the thoughtful deed: They saw an increase in their own sense of control.
You're probably already performing small acts of kindness—holding the door for that person juggling two grocery bags and a pumpkin, making a pot of coffee for the office. But when you do these things moving forward, take a moment to feel your impact.
By choosing to do something thoughtful, you're starting a ripple effect of kindness, one that will extend to people far beyond your network, all while giving you a boost of autonomy, too.
Savor the Small Wins
Having a big end goal is great—but to help you feel your impact along the way, it's important not to overlook the small wins. Experts say that focusing on the small gains—especially when tackling major social issues—can help you feel more in control of your impact and motivated in the long run.
"Breaking (social problems) down into a series of more modest steps, all on the path to the ultimate goal, reduces fear, clarifies direction, and increases the probability of early successful outcomes–boosting support for further action," Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer, authors of The Progress Principle: Using Small Wins to Ignite Joy, Engagement, and Creativity at Work, explain in a Harvard Business Review article.
The same holds true with your personal goals. Charles Duhigg, author of The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do and How to Change, writes that small wins lead to a pattern of "tiny advantages," which can help us believe that our bigger goals are within reach.
Next time you're taking on a new challenge—personal or political—get intentional about noticing the small wins along the way. Maybe it's a first draft of a presentation that your boss said "is headed in the right direction." Or, it's a conversation that inspires four unregistered voters to actually embrace their civic duty.
You're not settling by appreciating the mini wins—you're actually fueling yourself to reach the big goal at the end.
Don’t Let Setbacks Be the End of Your Story
Whatever setback you’ve struggled with, know your story isn’t over. It’s not nearly done. And you're still able to shape the plot.
For many people, this weekend felt like a major setback. Seeing the normalization of violence against women in the U.S. judiciary branch this Saturday was a blow to the gut like no other.
But this won’t be the end of our story.
Writer Rebecca Traister sums it up best in The Cut:
“This road is winding, long, unjust and cruel. It is set up to make victories—legal, electoral, moral—few and far between. But it also shows us, sometimes in blinkingly small and incomplete instances, that those victories are sometimes possible. If they weren’t, these powerful men and their allies wouldn’t be so desperate to silence and stop the masses from exerting their will, their rights, and their humanity as somehow equal to the humanity of those who wield power over them.”
The story isn’t over.
Also, did we mention that civic action is awesome for your wellbeing? Head here to register to vote.
Read next: 6 Ways to Define and Own Your Power