How to Bounce Back from Adversity and Come Out on Top

By: Keith Krach

Lou Holtz, considered one of the top college football coaches in America, guided the Notre Dame Fighting Irish to an NCAA championship title in 1988. He also led the team to nine consecutive bowl games during his tenure, and he achieved similar success at other universities. No stranger to success, Holtz once remarked, “Show me someone who has done something worthwhile, and I’ll show you someone who has overcome adversity.”

Lou Holtz | By Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Jordon Beesley | Wikipedia

In pursuit of their goals, entrepreneurs face their own share of adversity. Responding to these situations can provide some of the most valuable training a business leader can receive. Setbacks may vary in nature and magnitude, but all can be leveraged as learning experiences. Here are a few tips that may help when you’re facing a setback on your entrepreneurial journey:

1. Avoid feeling sorry for yourself.

When something goes awry, the natural reaction is to feel sorry for yourself and play the victim. The problem with holding on to this reaction is that you can become stuck in this feeling and unable to move forward. Wallowing in self-pity skews your perspective, and it erodes your confidence and ability to think objectively about recovering from the setback. It’s natural to feel sorry for yourself, but hanging on to this attitude can keep you living in the past.

2. Open up to the struggle.

Another natural response to a major setback is to become defensive, as if doing so can reverse what has already happened. In contrast, a better approach is to open up to the situation and embrace the adversity. The simple act of accepting what has transpired — and your role in causing it — can be invaluable and even accelerate the recovery process. If you made a mistake, don’t beat yourself up. Look at what went wrong and figure out why, so you can move forward.

3. Find grounding and inspiration.

During times of hardship in your career, one way to put things into perspective is to count all of the things that are going right. This tally can help counter the natural tendency to feel helpless and as though everything in your life has spun out of control — which is almost never the case. Find grounding in your family and friends, for example.

In addition to leaning on important relationships, you can look to inspirational books and other media for a jolt of motivation. Sometimes all it takes is a few words of wisdom to put things in perspective, and to gain the courage and inspiration to jump back in the ring.

4. Prevent hindsight bias.

One of the most important things to do in response to a setback is to evaluate what happened, but this evaluation can either help or hinder your bounce back. The first step is to think back on what might have caused the setback. Focus on your actions, not on factors you can’t control. Imagine what you could have done differently to bring about a better outcome. Then, try to think of other alternatives that could have also led to a positive result.

The purpose behind this exercise is to avoid hindsight bias — in this case, believing that the first alternative that came to mind had to be the cause and that there is no other possible explanation. By considering multiple possible courses of action, you’re more likely to arrive at the best option.

5. Establish a vision.

Along with looking back on potential causes for the setback, you need to figure out what you’ll do going forward. Your plan can be a broad, long-term vision without specifics at first. The point is to determine where your business is and where it needs to be. In many ways, creating a new vision for your company mirrors how you launched it: by developing an end goal and figuring out what you need to do to achieve it.

6. Look to others for perspective.

As you start advancing a plan of action, you should avail yourself of as many resources as possible. One crucial source is the people around you, whether colleagues in your company, your friends and family, or the mentors you’ve relied on throughout your career. It’s nearly impossible to get some perspective on the setback — or figure out what your next steps should be — without consulting the people you trust.

A second resource, albeit one that perhaps only a few companies have, is a crisis management team. This team exists for the very purpose of responding to setbacks, and can be an invaluable source of help in repositioning the company following a serious misstep.

7. Evaluate your marketing strategies.

Often, the question of how to respond to a setback will have the same answer as the question of how to win over new customers. That’s why every effort to recover your company should involve a thorough consideration of your customers. They will help determine how the company ought to respond to the problem, which means that marketing will be key.

Take inventory of your customers — particularly those who have been with the company the longest. Tailor messages to them, and start brainstorming how to reach out to new clients as well.