Rutgers-Camden Blog

Managing Setbacks so you can THRIVE, not just SURVIVE

stacked blocks that read "turn a setback into a comeback"

Think of an incident in the past 3 years, that in that moment, felt like a major blow or setback, a “I’m never going to recover from this” type of feeling. Maybe you failed a class, bombed a final, or found yourself on academic warning or probation.  Or maybe it was completely different–you lost your job, had a relationship unexpectedly end, or made a bad decision that cost you something important.  Whatever it was, I want you to sit and remember what you felt at that time for just a minute.

Now come back to the present, if you are reading this, it means you made it through – you are still here despite what happened, even if it did ultimately change the course of your life.  While not always enjoyable, these misfortunes are an important part of our life experiences to help us grow. As Dr. Daniel G. Amen puts it, “we often forget that life does not run in a straight line and is more like a roller coaster, ups can become our motivation to keep going, while downs (setbacks) allow us to learn and become better than before.”  

College is a period of anywhere between 4-6 years of your life, so it’s inevitable that you will experience a few setbacks during this time–some more catastrophic feeling than others. However, it is what you do with these “setbacks” that makes the difference between ultimately thriving and surviving long-term.  Those who thrive don’t just overcome, but also recover and learn from these experiences to ultimately make them stronger people. They learn to control their reactions when these moments happen to focus on the opportunity, not the failure.

This is easier said than done, as humans, we are automatically prone to focus on the negative and wallow in self-pity, it’s less challenging than doing the work of change. However, when you embrace change as an opportunity, you become more adaptable as obstacles arise, which ultimately helps you be more productive, resourceful, determined, and a better leader. All qualities that are not just great for a future career, but for managing your personal relationships as well. I encourage you to read this article from LinkedIn. It provides great actionable steps on how to handle setbacks effectively, while this one gives real-life examples of how successful entrepreneurs overcame obstacles to find success.

I implore you to take the setbacks you experience over your college career-whether big or small and use them as opportunities to grow and learn more about yourself and your path. More importantly, don’t forget we have a ton of resources and people here on campus who are specifically here to help you as you navigate your experience. This includes academic support such as tutoring, personal support like counseling in the Wellness Center, and career advising in the Career Center, plus so much more.  Remember it doesn’t matter what happens to you, it is what you do with what happens to you.

Best of luck this semester!