Three Actions that Use Setbacks As a Key to Your Personal Growth

Three Actions that Use Setbacks As a Key to Your Personal Growth

Go from powerless to powerful in a sprint.

It took one fall to change my ‘normal’.

In all of 2022, my days were crammed with activity – swim, cycle, or run, followed by time at the climbing wall.

And how could I give up my favourite – strength training?

The Ironman 70.3 triathlon was coming up. I had alpine summits to climb.

One missed foothold on the bouldering wall, and all my dreams hit the mat with me as I limped off it.

I powered through the triathlon somehow. But with a herniated spinal disc diagnosis, I went into three months of rehab right after.

I tried hard to live up to the only normal I knew, but those months were a series of one set back after another.

Walking 50 meters without help became impossible.

Finally, after four months of painful therapy, surgery was the only way out if I wanted to live without agony.

I was looking at 16 months of slow recovery to full fitness.

Where did I go wrong?

My identity was tied to my fitness, to my climbing. Once it was ripped away, I became someone I did not recognise – Inactive and unfit.

I was dreading the long haul back to good health. What was I going to do?

Someone pointed me to How To Skate A 10k and Half A 10k by Olympian and Swedish speed skater Nils van der Poel.

The first page of this document has a single quote by psychologist Carl Jung:

“It seems that all things true change, and only that which changes remains true.”

The document details how Nils developed his identity beyond speed skating. “Once I opened up to change, he writes, there was no longer anything to fear.”

Once I read it, I realised this – we are led to believe that time spent in recovery is time wasted. The need to workout every single day is real.

But what sets us apart is how we fearlessly embrace the inevitable that life throws our way. In my case a surgery and a long recovery.

Here are three key actions that helped me embrace my new normal.

Revive your passion

After skimming over the speed skating training, I got down to reading Nils’s advice. The passion projects I wanted to pursue but never had the time for – It was now.

I love writing, but for the last 12 years, I’ve been very lazy and inconsistent about it. After I got a chance to join a writer’s community, I jumped into it headlong.

With support from the coach and my talented peers, I have revived my love for the art and have been publishing consistently.

I like what writing does to me. It is an idea outlet, it brings clarity, and I get to connect so many dots that I would never have given myself a chance to.

The idea for developing a course on grant writing came to me as I wrote.

I find that my analytical skills have improved – I look at things in many different ways than I did before.

I assume less and ask more questions.

Rekindle Connections

In a busy life, we leave some friendships by the wayside. We cherish them but have no time to nurture them. Time was your enemy then, and now it is your friend.

These friendships are the kind you are not cultivating for an end. You are rekindling them just to be happy that those people are in your life. And you want to keep them there.

Some of my school friends whom I lost touch with, are now a part of my life. They have dogs, so that’s a huge bonus for me to keep them in my inner circle.

I got to know them better, found out interesting things they are doing, and I am happy with how life has turned out for them.

There is no ask, no expectation. Just the joy of company and interesting conversations. They’ve also been by my side when in a crisis.

It’s like they never left.

It has left me richer in experience, and I am glad I decided to reconnect.

Receive New Opportunities

My physio asked me to walk in water, as a part of my therapy.

Being a champion swimmer, it was humiliating to just walk.

With a dreadful feeling, I entered the walking lane and started counting the minutes till I could get out.

A group of chatty grandmas ruled the walker’s pool. I tried hard to stay away and focused. I was not one of ‘them’. But my worry was needless.

They turned out to be fun ladies who want to chat at any chance they get but also inquire about your well-being.

One thing led to another, and I landed a writing opportunity just because I opened my mouth to say hello.

It was as bad as it sounded until I had the courage to do it.


I had leveraged the COVID-19 interruption to build several ventures. It surprised me why I had let this setback put me down so much?

The trouble was that it was tied so closely to my ‘self’ that I feared I’d lose my essence.

A setback changed my life. Instead of surrendering, I decided to adapt and find a new sweet spot to exist in.

You may find this new normal is what you have been looking for all along.

Change isn’t a hurdle any more. You need to keep playing and working with the changing rules, and you’ll win in more ways than you know.

It is not about avoiding the fall. It is about the grace in getting back up.

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