I never lose. I either win or learn!

This article was inspired by the famous quote “I never lose. I either win or learn.” Nelson Mandela.

Have you ever faced a situation in which you wanted something so much and it didn’t materialize? How did you deal with it?

A couple of years ago, I peered up with HR on a hiring process where we interviewed more or less 20 candidates. We aligned on a number of questions in order to take the best out of the interviews and one of them was for the candidate to describe the time when he/she has had to deal with a setback or disappointment in work life.

There was a wide range of response and examples on what they identified as ‘seatback’. How they dealt with that and the outcome. I will obviously not disclose any specific story but revisiting my notes to produce this article, I found many examples that what was seen as setback was probably an opportunity disguised as temporary failure.

It was a simple but purposeful question with the hidden objective to identify candidates’ ability to cope with seatback and show drive and resilience. Whatever is the source of the seatback, important is how we handle it. When facing a difficult situation, you can choose how to respond to it.

So, what do you do when you face a setback? I see two options. We either (a) Give up. Moan over it and spend days, months or years dwelling on that; or (b) Learn from it and get on;

I choose the latter! To me, the beauty of a great experience is how we face and learn from it. Whatever has made us feel disappointed or even fail, has certainly given opportunities which, sometimes, we may have otherwise not seen. So, with some effort and reflection (I use LARA model*), you will certainly be able to see different angles to the same event. By doing that, I really consider that “‘We’ never lose. ‘We’ either win or learn.

Google it and you will find several articles of people that chose to learn from their setbacks, be resilient and not give up. From Henry Ford to Steve Jobs we have a lot of examples of successful people that have found opportunities in failure and adversity that they could not be recognized in a more favorable circumstance.

You probably have heard the quote ‘In the midst of every crisis, lies great opportunity.

A personal story….

By nature (probably related to my background and poor childhood), I am very resilient! So resilient to the extent that I often have to reflect whether my resilience is not becoming stubbornness. Life taught me that resilience is a great way to recover or learn from a setback or failure.

A few years ago I was promoted and after a few months on the job, I was informed that because of a change in the organization strategy my department would be ceased within 4 to 6 months. At first, I concede thought it was bad luck and saw it as a huge setback. Giving a second thought and looking at alternatives, I decided to change the way we operated and bring new opportunities to the table. Then, I gathered the team, explained the situation and involved them in the strategy. In a span of 3 months, a couple of millions were delivered to the bottom line (opportunities not explored before) and the team remained active for almost 5 years and became a watershed in my career. A small shift in my perspective prevented the situation from being a failure to become a success story!

Napoleon Hill wrote that recognizing that every adversity carries with it the seed of an equivalent benefit, and temporary defeat is not a failure unless and until it has been accepted as such. When overtaken by adversity, begin then and there to search for the seed of an equivalent benefit instead of grieving over the loss it may have temporarily caused.

So, what will you do the next time you face a setback or temporary failure?


*(Trevor Learning material): LARA model – Learning by self-study and reference to external resource material; Applying by testing the competencies in your leadership role; Reflecting on successes using the Learning Log and by your Coach facilitating and reinforcing your learning across the GROW model including role-plays and simulation; Adopting and embedding by your using the competencies in your daily work. The general learning aims for this module are described in the competency framework and key actions above. Your personal learning aims are reflected in the PDP agreed with your Coach.

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