What Are Setbacks Good For?

Life throws all sorts of craziness at us. Job losses. Relationship challenges. Devastating health issues.

Our lives are full of events that can set us back.

But I want to challenge you today to look at setbacks in a new light. One that will encourage you and help you move forward.


Setbacks are tough. They challenge us and change our lives. Sometimes they’re overwhelming.

Grieve your setbacks. You have to come to terms with your situation when a setback comes your way.

Name it. Say it. Begin to change it.

What Can A Setback Do For You?

This is the million dollar question. This is what will make you a champion or put you in last place.

Setbacks can either destroy you or they can refine you. The choice is yours.

When you begin to change the way you view your situations and setbacks, you begin to see new opportunities. What looked like a complete failure may have been the best thing to ever happen to you.

A major setback for me was the breakup of a relationship when I was in high school. I was head over heels in love with this girl. And one day she said it was over. Not only that, but because of the situation I was asked to leave a church I loved. This completely devastated me.

Now, some people would let this destroy them. To prevent them from loving again. Or attending church.

Instead, I used this setback to refine myself.

I began consuming books. One book after the other. This helped me gain knowledge I otherwise would have passed by.

I began building new relationships. Growing together in a community helped refine who I was. I discovered there was a world outside of a dating relationship.

I began to discover who I was. Sometimes you pour an unhealthy amount of time and energy into relationships that aren’t meant to be. When they dissolve, you begin to rediscover yourself.

Or another setback was when a friend and I decided to end our record label. It was exciting times. We were going to help bands promote their music and let them shine.

In the end, the record label folded without a CD released.

And yet, through this setback, I was refined.

I learned business principles. We met with business leaders from SCORRE. They taught us how to put together a business plan and bring our business idea to the surface.

I learned how to approach people. There were bands that I approached about joining our label. I had to get out of my comfort zone and face the possibility of rejection.

I had to learn how to close down a business. This was tough as running a record label had been a dream of mine. There came a time when we had to call it quits. We had to close down a dream and move on. So many lessons came from this experience.

Refining Yourself

Setbacks are all chances to refine yourself. To better yourself. To become new.

Stop looking at your troubles as the end of the world. They’re not.

They’re new opportunities. New discoveries. And a new you.

Take time to look at the lessons you could learn from your recent setbacks. Begin applying those to your life. Through this process you’ll be refined.

Question: How have you been refined through a setback? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • A couple years ago, my family dealt with a setback when my wife experienced a significant health issue/challenge.  While the setback was extremely tough to deal with, I think it gave our family a chance to recenter itself and to redefine and refine our purpose.  We were forced to get back to the basics as we journeyed through the recovery period of her health issues.

    • Thanks for sharing this Jon. Glad you were able to use that tough situation to focus on what matters.

  • DS

    For me, it usually takes a little bit of time for me to see and understand why I went through what I did.  I think, if we’re honest, we have all been through some significant refining period.  It’s not always easy when we’re in it to look for areas of growth, and even afterwards, it’s normally covered in painful memories/experiences.  

    It’s important that we keep an open mind as we evaluate all of our experiences (good or bad) to grow from them – instead of reacting based upon fear alone.

    • Exactly DS. It’s painful and messy but without it we wouldn’t be who we are.

      • DS

        Well said…

  • I’ve had many setbacks in life, a victim of a cult as a kid, late start in college, loss of a child, a divorce due to mental health: these are all things that set me back.  One thing I’ve learned about setbacks is that they make you re-evaluate life, what’s important and what’s not.   

    • Those are some major setbacks Dan. Glad you’ve used them for evaluation and deciding what’s important. 

  • One of my biggest set backs brought me to where I am today, it just took a whole to learn the lessons from it 🙂 

    • Sometimes that happens. We’re blind to the results that will come. 

  • Setbacks have taught me not to take “no” for answer. To push forward especially if it’s something you feel strongly about – a conviction. I too have refined myself by consuming books. I try to read everything I get my hands on. 

    • Great lesson to have gotten from setbacks Juan. How do you temper that with the need to take “no” once in awhile?

  • When I moved to Chicago from Dallas, right out of college, for a new job – I was absolutely miserable.  I hated everything about it – and even ended up with depression for a short period of time.  I learned a few things that have shaped everything afterward for me – first…things are often not as they seem, second..nothing is forever, and lastly…it’s okay to ask for help.  Setbacks mean we are growing, now I am more uncomfortable if there isn’t an occasional setback because it means I’m not trying hard enough.

    • Tom, that sure sounds like it would’ve been a struggle and setbacks would have come your way. I’m glad you’re able to see the setbacks and frustrations for what they really were. The building blocks to growth.

      BTW, I didn’t realize you lived in Ohio.

      • Toledo area for las couple of years…nice place to raise a family and good people here.

  • One of my major setbacks was several years ago when I was unemployed for several months. Through it, I learned exactly how much it cost to run my home each month. I put the lesson into practice when I had to turn down a couple of job offers – while I was still unemployed – because they didn’t meet my minimum wage requirement – which wasn’t a whole lot. Previous experience had taught me that employers don’t always follow through with promises of a pay increase after your probation period, so I just couldn’t take a chance on starting a job paying less than my minimum needs.

    • Losing a job can be rough. I’m glad you were able to use it to discover the costs of running your home. That’s a major lesson to learn!

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  • Christine

    Setbacks really knock me for six. I know this post is old but I guess I was/am looking for ways to better handle setbacks … as it is, it is like a body blow that can then take me weeks, if not months, to recover from and I don’t feel stronger afterward, I feel weakened.

    I don’t seem to grow or flourish or learn much positive from them. I nurse myself back to a functioning level and that is about it. My ego is fragile I think and I tend to retreat rather than “come out fighting”. I pretend I don’t care because I didn’t want it anyway and everything is a bit pointless anyway – so just ignore it and continue on diminished, a bit battered but whatever. Aim lower next time. Don’t have expectations. Succeed in endlessly failing. Never learn how to succeed but become an expert in “massaging” the truth (to yourself, to others). Pretend, pretend, pretend. But never succeed. Give up. Change focus. Take the hit. Reinvent. But never succeed.

    And then become ever more susceptible – feel the lows more strongly and have less reserves to pull on and out – feel the blows more frequently and lack the strength to move away from what is doing the battering.

    Setbacks really set ME back. I don’t know how to develop resilience or grit or perseverance or body armour. I don’t help myself heal – just slowly the (ego) bruises fade, the cuts scar over and I am back where I started. Older, no wiser.

    • I’m not sure what to tell you Christine. I think you need to work on the ego thing and getting over the negative feelings of failure.