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Can We Learn Anything from Setbacks?

Let me ask you a question. When was the last time you faced a setback? How did you deal with it? Can we learn anything from setbacks? Did you feel drowning in negative thoughts and engaging in self-destructive behavior?

Well, I did.

Here’s the thing. I recently got my 50th job rejection since I started looking for a side job to supplement our income this year.

Despite my earnest attempts at properly communicating my background and qualifications, despite my extensive history of accomplishments and collaborations, despite my thorough research and preparation, I got rejected.

Yeah, it sucks. And there’s nothing to do about it.

Setbacks are Part of Life

Now, I am well aware that rejection comes with the career.

Software Engineering is a relatively modern industry with a highly volatile and saturated job market. As a result, there’s very little standardization in the hiring strategies, hiring managers are usually ill-equipped for the peculiarities of the field, and quite frankly, nobody seems to know how to assess candidates’ capacities properly.

Companies just copy what big tech is doing without questioning if it applies to them at all.

Now, going back to the rejection and not having this context, you could be forgiven for thinking that some force in the universe is conspiring to keep me out of a job. Heck, I felt myself falling into that conclusion a few times, and I am sure I’m not the first or only one who has felt that way at some point.

Yet, as you probably have concluded already, this is just in our heads. 

There is no universal consciousness with an agenda trying to deprive me of getting a 9to5. No conspiracy is behind the many failures I have had. No ill intent is afoot. 

At least as far as I know. 

We are but a leaf dancing in the wind.

Sometimes, things just don’t work out the way you want or are not meant to be. So much in life is out of our control, and uncertainty is literally part of the universe’s makeup.

If you look hard enough you will find many examples of setbacks at work and any other aspect of your life. That’s just how life is.

Unfortunately, as we know, uncertainty and lack of causality are, well, not comforting.

Can we learn anything from setbacks?
Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

Knowing that there is no plan in the works or reason for your pain is quite scary because it implies a fundamental lack of control in your life. Consequently, no control means that you are powerless to the whims of chance.

Being aware of our mortality yet not knowing the circumstances of our eventual demise, that is the burden of uncertainty we bear.


Narrative Comfort

It is normal to feel victimized by circumstances like these; Circumstances that are mainly out of our control. 

We build a narrative because everything must mean something, and if the peg doesn’t fit the hole, we force it through or make an excuse.

We look for relations within events, possible interests influencing decisions, and ultimately a justification for the ill that has befallen us. 

As pattern-seeking monkeys, we are wired to put randomness together and always look for causality. This behavior helped us increase the chances of avoiding the predator that was likely to be hiding in the bushes to kill us. 

But the thing is, there is no predator hiding anymore, and if there were, it wouldn’t be going to these lengths for prey.

The truth is that life is riddled with loose connections and random events. 

Additionally, randomness itself is challenging to grasp for our brains. True randomness implies that there is a lack of pattern or predictability in a set. Thus, randomness is, in essence, applied uncertainty.

This definition also means randomness can sometimes yield something ordered or that seems to follow a pattern; Something that seems intentional.

But this is just our poor brains being incapable of dismissing its millennia-old programming. Without the context, we attribute causality to nature and fail to learn our lesson.

Learning from Setbacks

In the end, even if there were something nefarious behind the rejection, honestly, I don’t care. Instead, I strive to live my life free of the limitations that come from doubt and judgment, internal or external.

I’m not going to let this setback stop me. I’m not going to let anger and pain consume me or imprison me in despair.

I acknowledge the pain, feel it, and let it pass through me.

I will not let other people’s opinions or perceptions rob me of my peace.

I know who I am.

I know what I have accomplished.

I am nobody’s prisoner.

So, Can We Learn Anything from Setbacks?

Yes, absolutely.

I have learned that letting anger or pity take over and make you feel victimized will end up ruining your life.

As hard and painful as it feels. Moving forward is the only healthy way.

Jealousy, anger, pity, are all cells for the cursed to inhabit. They are all the prisons that we build in our minds; A prison with only one inmate and one jailer.

They don’t serve you in any way. They won’t help you move forward.

Now, don’t judge me. It has been a heck of a year for me. Indeed, it has been a heck of a year for all of us.

Between the ever-changing restrictions, exceptional financial burdens, diminishing opportunities, and lack of social interactions, we all deserve at the very least a medal of participation for just holding on to our sanity.

I hope that if you are facing a setback lately you allow yourself to take a break and process things properly. Dial down your plans and, like me, look for some healthy coping mechanism, maybe some company, to help you deal with this situation.

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