Discovering Resilience: 5 Ways to Bounce Back from a Setback
The creative path is filled with challenges. Developing a resilience toolbox can help you regain your creative confidence fast and avoid getting stuck in fear or doubt.
Your resilience toolbox is about reflecting, having self-compassion and cultivating the ability to let go, carry on and bounce back.
How do you pick yourself up after a fall? Recently, I tripped on the way out of my building – standing one moment, ripped clothing and gashed knees the next. I gathered up all the stuff that had spilled out of my handbag and took my wobbly, teary self off to the studio. It was hard to focus when I felt upset and sore but eventually I settled down to work. The creative path is like this too: two steps forwards, one backwards; unexpected falls or failures; tears (maybe); getting back on our feet; trying again.
When I refer to “creative living,” I am talking about living a life that is driven more strongly by curiosity than by fear. Because creative living is a path for the brave. We all know this. And we all know that fear is a desolate boneyard where our dreams go to desiccate in the hot sun. This is common knowledge; sometimes we just don’t know what to do about it.
Elizabeth Gilbert, author
Creative practice and self-employment take courage and resilience. We have to settle down and do the work despite the setbacks, disappointments or challenges we may experience. The foundation of a solid resilience toolbox starts with good questions like these:
1. What happened?
It helps to acknowledge what’s happened; I encourage my mentees to write a single A4 page stream of consciousness about this. Write fast without stopping. Forget about punctuation or making sense – this is about uncovering how you’re really feeling ie bruised, embarrassed or rejected etc.
Look over your words and perhaps you’ll spot old stories and patterns right there on the page. You know, the ones spoken in that whiny inner critic voice which says mean stuff. Ask yourself if any of it is even true and take a constructive, self-compassionate approach to the bits that are.
2. Is it even about you?
Not getting the commission or the job or the hot date can lead to you to wonder what is wrong with you (or your work!). That’s just your ego talking – it’s a fragile wee thing – and likely the reason someone else got the gig or the grant, or even the guy/gal/human, is simply to do with things you cannot control. All you can do is continue to live, work and create with intention and integrity. In this way you will, hopefully (!), attract the right people and projects and repel the rest.
3. What’s the lesson?
Once, I was commissioned to design and deliver a bespoke experience for a third party whose client didn’t really know what they wanted. I crossed all my personal boundaries and tied them up in an ugly bow. Multiple times. The project had an ever-changing focus and timeline that kept sliding away from my company values and their budget. It was a mess.
In the end, after weeks of work, I walked away from the project and refunded the deposit my client had paid me. I was out-of-pocket, worried about damage to my reputation and full of self-doubt about how it had all gone so wrong. The lesson in this experience was to trust myself by honouring the beauty of clarity, the power of a firm boundary and being intentional about accepting the ‘right’ type of projects.
This was not a new lesson. (Sometimes we get sent the same lesson over and over again because we didn’t pay attention the last time.) It can be really useful to think about what a particular bad experience can teach you about not making the same mistakes again.
4. What if you reframe your relationship to failure?
Bringing curiosity and an enthusiasm for experimentation to your creative work can help make setbacks feel less like failure and more like just another part of the process. The key is to make an effort because if you’re not brave enough to try, for fear of failure, then you’re going to stay small or stuck. For example, I embrace the editing process because I know it makes my writing tighter and stronger. It doesn’t feel comfortable in the moment but experience has taught me the rewards outweigh that temporary discomfort.
Also, I am a fan of tiny experiments which gives me permission to mess up without being attached to the outcome. The risk factor is low and the discovery factor is limitless. Win!
5. Is it just a case of bad timing?
Sometimes a dent to your confidence is part of a specific season of your life. For instance, bereavement has knocked me sideways a number of times over this past decade. Resilience is helpful to an extent and yet, in these seasons of my life, learning to surrender to the ebb and flow of grief has been the kinder and more self-compassionate choice than trying to power on through. I had to accept my temporary limitations and trust my confidence would return in time, and it did.
If you’re raising tiny humans or recovering from burnout or overwhelmed already, then beating yourself up for struggling to get going with a huge new project can be really unhelpful. It can be better to accept your current limitations of energy, focus, time, money, space – and understand this is a phase that won’t, or does not have to, last forever.
In summary, the key to picking yourself back up is to ask yourself some good questions, reflect and learn about yourself, then get back out there.
Some things to think about this week
- Who are the people who help you bounce back after a setback?
- What tips and tricks are in your toolbox?
- What is one thing you can do this month to strengthen your resilience toolbox?