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When Life Tells You No... Stay Ready

Setbacks are a part of life. And we will all go through those stretches when setbacks are a BIG part of life. Many people I know are in the midst of one of those stretches when the hits just keep on coming. One friend is in the midst of a frustrating job search. A student I know is trying to psych herself up to start school at her second choice college.

As a generally positive person, I find that I can cope with a moderate level of setbacks. Most people can, but it is when the level of setbacks rises, that I struggle to remain positive, hopeful and optimistic about the future. At least, that is how I've been feeling for the last two weeks.

But then I had some advice from Russell Wilson. In his commencement speech last Saturday at the University of Wisconsin, Wilson spoke of his own setbacks and gave some advice on moving beyond the frustrations of life telling you no.

The truth is, we hear no a lot throughout our entire lives. For children, it can be an hourly occurrence. For teens, an even more regular event. Young adults get denied loans or jobs consistently and yet once we hit a certain age, we tend to feel as though life should be saying yes all the time. But life just doesn't cooperate.

Wilson reminds us that when (not if) life tells us no, we need to stay ready. I've thought about that all week, looking for practical ways to apply that idea. How do we stay ready? What does that look like? My thinking led to the development of some steps in what I call The Stay Ready Process.

1. Read. Reading is therapeutic and instructive. When life tells us no, we can escape into a story, learn from someone else's story or inform ourselves with a new idea or new knowledge. Ideally, we should do all three.

2. Talk. It helps to say - out loud - what is going on and how we feel about it. This can help to clarify our thinking and prioritize next steps.

3. Listen. I was at the barber with my son earlier this week and listened to the barber's story about the ways life was telling him no. It gave me perspective about my own situation, insight into the way humans think and grow and, most importantly, empathy.

4. Work. We all have goals and need to be continually working towards them. When life says no, it is easy to translate that into a referendum of our goals. In most cases, it isn't. It's just a setback on the way towards the goal.

5. Review. Because setbacks are so unpleasant, it is easy to avoid thinking about them. Don't. When we review the setback - what happened? why? what does this mean for me? - it helps us to imagine what's next.

6. React. For most of us, the initial shock of the setback causes our brains to say "this is the worst thing ever!" Usually, that isn't the case. After we read, talk, think, listen, work and review, we should have a clearer picture of the setback and it's context in our lives. Only then should we react. Reacting can take many forms - re-evaluation of the goals, brushing off the dirt and getting back in the ring, working harder than we did before - but it should always be constructive and positive. This is, without a doubt, the hardest step in the Stay Ready Process, but the most important.

Staying ready is hard work. And it isn't really fun, either. But it is necessary for our own survival and it is essential that we have these conversations with students. After all... "if we will be quiet and ready enough, we shall find compensation for every disappointment." ~Henry David Thoreau.