How to Rise Strong from Failure, Disappointment and Setbacks

Written by Melissa Kessler, MA, PCC

Photo by Benjamin Davies – Unsplash

In Brene Brown’s book Rising Strong, she talks about what gives people the strength to get back up and try again after falling down. This resiliency comes from the ability to feel and acknowledge the hurt rather than acting out on it and inflicting pain on others. The normal reaction is to look for someone or something to blame, lash out at others, and pretend not be hurt. She says “We act out and shut down instead of reaching out… People who wade into discomfort and vulnerability and tell the truth about their stories are the real badasses.”

Step 1: Emotional Self-Awareness

So how do we acknowledge feeling hurt when many of us don’t focus on emotions, especially in the workplace? The first step is emotional self-awareness, which she calls the Reckoning. We have to become aware that something has been triggered in us and be curious about what that emotion is and why we are feeling this way. We can do this by pausing, taking some deep breaths, and asking ourselves, “What is going on for me? What am I feeling?  Why am I feeling this way? What is setting me off?”  Many times what we may notice before we can put a name to the emotion are physical sensations, thoughts, and urges, since these are all interconnected. In a recent episode of Young Sheldon, Sheldon tells his Meemaw while riding in the backseat of her car, “I’m having an emotion I’m unfamiliar with. My face is hot. I have a knot in my stomach, and I’m resisting the urge to kick your seat right now.” She then helps him sort out what emotion he is feeling and why, using the process of elimination. Turns out, it’s jealousy.

This self-awareness is really key because if we know when we are hooked emotionally and why, then we are less likely to take it out on other people at home and at work. Our natural tendency is to offload hurt and pain instead of feeling it. We can also notice when we have been hooked if we start engaging in compulsive behaviors to avoid feeling our pain such as overeating, excessive drinking, exercising, shopping, TV, rumination, etc. The best leaders I’ve coached are keenly aware of their emotions and triggers and are very adept at managing their emotions and their interactions with others (emotional intelligence).

Step 2: Identify What’s Real and What We’re Making Up

The next step is to sort out what really happened and what we are making up. She calls this phase the Rumble: owning our story. Often when we are triggered, we make up the worst possible stories about ourselves and others such as “I’m a complete failure. She can’t stand me or my work. I blew it and I’ll never get another opportunity like this again,” etc. Our brains are wired to try to make sense of things very quickly as a survival mechanism. However, our stories are often based on assumptions rather than facts. To discover the truth, we must ask, “What more do I need to learn and understand about the situation, about the other people in my story, and about myself?” Sometimes, we can sort this out on our own, but often times we may need the help of someone we fully trust, who accepts us with all of our imperfections. This is someone who can help us realize that we aren’t a complete failure. We may have messed up, but we can own up to it, make amends, dust ourselves off and try again. It’s getting to the point of being able to say, “I messed up and I’m sorry. I want to make this right, so how do we fix it and move forward?” instead of blaming others. It takes a great amount of courage and vulnerability to look inward rather than outward and admit mistakes, another trait of great leaders.

Step 3: Regular Practice

Once this process becomes our regular practice, then we have moved into the last phase which she calls the Revolution. This process requires high emotional intelligence. The good news is that emotional intelligence, like the Rising Strong process, involves skills that can be learned, practiced and continually improved. May we all learn and practice the Rising Strong process to become our best whole-hearted selves with the courage to dare to fall, and then rise strong.

 “The most dangerous stories we make up are the narratives that diminish our inherent worthiness. We must reclaim the truth about our lovability, divinity, and creativity.” – Brene Brown

“There is no greater threat to the critics and cynics and fearmongers than those of us who are willing to fall because we have learned how to rise.” – Brene Brown


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