10 Ways to Help Your Kid Get Past Discouraging Setbacks

We want our kids to have a sense of purpose and a belief in a positive future. Nothing hurts more than to stand by and watch our kids fall short of something they really want – whether they are auditioning, trying out for a team, applying for a job or college admission, working toward grades or leadership roles, or wanting a date for the prom. But somewhere, sooner or later, kids will face loss, disappointment, a tough challenge. You can’t change the outcome. Sometimes all you can do is help them think about the experience in a way that develops resilience and keeps them going for their dream.

Some kids are naturally more resilient than others, but resilience can be strengthened. Here are 10 ways to help your child gain perspective on what they are labeling a “negative experience”. Remember to always ask permission before giving suggestions, advice or opinions.

  • “Can I make an observation?”
  • “I’m wondering about….”
  • “Can I suggest another way for you to think about the experience…”
  1. Help them learn to ask for help. Maybe this is an opportunity for them to learn something every successful person knows – sometimes you need to ask for help from someone who is farther along the path. There is humility in knowing what you don’t know, and it doesn’t take away from the ultimate accomplishment of a goal if someone has helped you along the way. Kids need to learn the value of mentors, how to reach out for expertise they are missing when they need to build their skill set, and simply get help on the pieces that are not in their lane. And they need to learn the value of a network and develop the ability to reach out for support.
  1. Frame the narrative as the hero or heroines journey. There is power in this perspective. Successful people have failed a lot. They have learned how to “fail faster”. They accept setbacks as part of the journey so they recover and get onto the next thing faster. Being conscious of how you tell the story helps with speedy recovery. Reading or watching biographies and autobiographies will help them see how the challenges and setbacks are just one part of a bigger story. Your kids will feel your compassion if you share your own story of setbacks and adversity. Help them tell their story of facing adversity. I love the brief outline of the hero’s journey quoted in the book Show Your Work! “In the first act, you get your hero up a tree. The second act, you throw rocks at him. For the third act, you let him down.”     – George Abbott.
  1. Jettison negative self-talk. Self-criticism and beating yourself up takes the trauma of one disappointment and puts you through it over and over until it is not about what happened, it is about who you are. No good comes from that. They need to remember what they do changes who they are, and who they are changes what they do. It is a cycle of learning and growing and ultimately becoming the person that can have the dream.
  1. Help them with an accurate assessment of what could have been executed in a more skillful way. This doesn’t happen when they are in the depth of despair over a bitter disappointment; this happens later. Remember, the style of parenting that has you constantly in the cheerleader role, telling them “you can have anything you want” and “you’re God’s gift to the world” doesn’t prepare them for the real world. In reality, we all have areas of strength and areas that aren’t our gift. Help them with an honest evaluation of skills and abilities; but put the brakes on when you hear them verbally berating their abilities in a way that shames and diminishes them. Focus on how to do better next time. And help them understand where their strengths are, because they’ll accomplish the most if they work in areas where they’re naturally strong.
  1. Teach them to follow the joy. When things don’t work out there is often ambivalence at work. Was it really an intention of the heart, or just a “should” in their life? If there wasn’t a commitment to really do the work to prepare, then why? Were there competing intentions and therefore lack of focus? If they learn to follow the dreams that have energy and enthusiasm, follow what holds their interest, not yours, they’ll go farther. Yes, life has responsibilities. Yes, there are consequences to the choice of not doing the work required. And admittedly, sometimes that work is uninspiring. Let’s face it, not every kid is going to love every required class/assignment in high school or college. There’s a balance between doing what’s necessary and doing what really lights you up. We want more for our kids than just being successful hoop jumpers – get the grades, get into college, get the degree, get the job, get the paycheck. If they do it all successfully, but there is no joy in it, ultimately there will come a point of burnout and disillusionment. Their life mission will resonate with an aliveness that lets them know they’re on track.
  1. Ask empowering questions. Here are a few from a much longer list that coaches use.
    • What is this experience teaching you?
    • What have you learned?
    • What’s your next step from here?
    • What are your ideas for moving forward?
    • What is another path to your dream?
    • Is there a skill or ability to work on that will help?
    • What’s one thing you can do?
  1. Give her credit for going for it. Going for it and falling short is more a victory than not bothering to go for it at all. Lots of things can get in the way of what we want, but at the end of life most people are lamenting not going for their dreams. So teach your kid to give himself credit any time he takes a shot. And again, make it about the learning.
  1. Set an example. Do we love the world we live in? Do we express joy and delight with life? Do our messages about our world paint a positive picture? Do we demonstrate gratitude for our journey and resilience with our own challenges? Before they listen to you they need to see you live it.
  1. Embrace every experience. They need to have experiences that show the contrast of likes vs. dislikes, what works vs. what doesn’t. It is all information when they’re young and discovering their unique path. The “bulldozer” parenting style is one that tries to remove all obstacles and leave kids as smooth a path as possible. Resist that style because the learning is in the struggle. Of course they need to know we have their back, and we will stand up for them in situations where the power imbalance requires an adult advocate. But some things need to play out for the lesson, so don’t jump in take the learning away from them.
  1. Be sure they find a positive way to self-soothe. If you don’t help kids find positive ways to get back into emotional balance after a disappointment, their peers will surely help them find drugs and alcohol to self medicate. There should be an outlet for stress on a regular basis, not just when there is major stress and disappointment. Time in nature, sports, workouts, creative pursuits, yoga class, friends, community, ways to burn off energy (hike, bike, swim, parkour, dance, snowboard, hit the trampoline gym), escapism (books, movies, plays, dance performances, games, concerts, an occasional Netflix binge), planning an adventure, massage, aromatherapy bubble bath, whatever works. Be sure they have something they enjoy doing to unwind and de-stress, and have access to doing it.

There are amazing people on the planet (past and present) who have gained their power through a series of challenges (and possibly wounds), sometimes over years of trials and “failures” that led them through dark days. These people usually come forward as the ones who radically transform our world because they’ve experienced their own transformation. While it is painful to see our kids struggle, we want to allow for the possibility that something is being born and will emerge in time if we let it. A loving presence that holds space for what’s emerging is a gift that’s always in our power to give them.

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Remembering Brian — Measuring Success Part 3

Last night I had the heart-wrenching experience of attending a vigil for a young man who died of an accidental drug overdose. In the sharing, it was clear this young man was dearly loved, was a valued member of his school and work community, made people smile and laugh, always showed forgiveness, loved to work hard, charged onto the basketball court and played hard, appreciated the times he was truly seen by others, impacted a lot of lives, and brought strength and dignity to his struggles and challenges. This young man filled a room with people grieving his loss and speaking of how he was valued and loved.

Emotions were raw. He died just one day ago. Tears flowed and hearts were heavy, yet there were smiles and laughter at remembering his sweet spirit and how he embraced life with energy and passion – whether it be a snowfall, a sheep farm, his love of a new sweatshirt and matching shoes, time spent with family and friends, or sharing contrarian political views to enliven the conversation.

There was also sharing of his struggles, his sensitivity, his pain – and mention of his red beard. In the marriage of those images I had the vision of a Viking warrior who had died and ascended to Valhalla – received to a place of honor and glory by other warriors who fought courageous battles. Brian represents a new kind of warrior, a Spiritual Warrior, valiantly fighting the battles of our day and age. Life isn’t easy when you grapple with your own challenges at the same time you deeply feel the suffering of others. This is a difficult time to live life with a sensitive spirit.

This quote seems appropriate.

            The Knighthood of our times.

            There is a knighthood of our time whose members do not ride 

            through the darkness of physical forests as of old,

            but through the forests of darkened minds;

            They are armed with a spiritual armor 

            and an inner sun makes them radiant;

            Out of them shines healing,

            healing that flows from the knowledge of mankind as a spiritual being

            They must create inner order, inner justice, peace and conviction,

            in the darkness of our time.

Karl König

For me, the most painful thing that was shared was that he felt he was a failure. In my mind, he was anything but a failure. When we leave this life we won’t take our wealth, awards, credentials, success, celebrity status, family or friends – we will only take our spiritual growth from this lifetime into the next. We are spiritual beings having a human experience that serves the evolution of the soul. From that vantage point, you are successful every time you…

  • Learn to be raw and honest and not hide who you are
  • Show compassion and forgiveness to yourself and others, rather than judge or criticize
  • Couragously face the shadow self, giving all your aspects, light and dark, a voice
  • Create deep relationships with fellow travelers on the journey
  • Allow your challenges to give others the opportunity to learn and grow
  • Face your struggles with dignity and courage and humility

Brian did all those things.

Our culture is drawn to beauty, celebrity, and money as evidence of success. We measure worth in superficial measures of “likes” or “followers”. We’ve given our children a world with huge economic disparity, political divisiveness, never-ending wars and regional conflicts, an overwhelming amount of negative information they don’t know what to do with, and an unprecedented rate of economic, environmental, and technological change to grapple with. They certainly have reason to feel disheartened, discouraged and disillusioned. And yet, overall, they manage to find a way to love life. They find relationships and experiences to embrace and enjoy. Clearly, given what was said in the sacred space of the vigil last night, Brian certainly did. I would call that success.

We feel he was taken too soon, his absence leaves a space no one else can fill. And yet we have to imagine the possibility he was here in the right time and place, doing precisely what he was meant to do, for the time it took to fulfill his life purpose. In spiritual terms there is no such thing as failure. In his lifetime he was surrounded and protected by an army of angels, and now they are welcoming him home, proclaiming, “well done Brian, well done!”.



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23 Things to Consider if You Feel Like a Failure – Measuring Success Part 2

We’ve been taught to view success by outer measures – degrees, income, assets, job title, number of readers, followers, subscribers, likes, friends, our kids, GPA, college acceptance, number of years married, weight, awards and accolades.

I’m certainly not immune to these measures. I care about many of them.

And I’ve expanded my definition considerably through what I’ve learned as a wife, a parent, an artist, and an entrepreneur.

I’ve come to view success as an ability to use everything unfolding in my life as an opportunity to grow & evolve, be more awake and aware. And to simply remember that underneath any crap-storm of emotion and perceived f**k-up I am a spiritual being having a human experience, and I need to give myself some grace.

With that in mind, here are 23 Alternative Perspectives on Success For Your Consideration…

Success = getting OK with the idea that if I try more, and do more, I will fail more and Less Successful = not wanting to try things I’m not sure I can do well

Success = willingness to get out on the edge and stretch, take a risk, leave the comfort zone behind, make a mess of it and Less Successful = fear, paralysis, staying stuck, refusing to push myself (even a gentle nudge)

Success = getting OK with the worst case scenario and taking action anyway and Less Successful = continual focus on what I might lose or give up if things don’t work out, with the result that I never follow my dream

Success = accepting “what is” and Less Successful = demanding a different experience, i.e. “this shouldn’t be happening to me”

Success = telling my story as the hero’s journey with all its trials and triumphs and Less Successful = telling my story in a disempowered way – “I’m upset because…” or “I’m the victim of…”

Success = getting an idea, being curious, taking action to see what happens and Less Successful = continual fence sitting because I’m waiting for absolute clarity and guaranteed results before taking action

Success = being open to what the process teaches me; letting the process change me; learning to do something more joyfully and effectively and creatively and Less Successful = singular focus on, and attachment to, one and only one outcome

Success = setting intentions and taking action in alignment with my values and Less Successful = acting outside my value system

Success = taking a stand for something, even if it is controversial and Less Successful = not wanting to disagree with conventional wisdom or upset anyone

Success = the desire to give and serve and Less Successful = desperation around what I want to get

Success = discernment and clarity around what is a “yes” and what is a “no” and Less Successful = always saying “yes” or always saying “no”

Success = focus on how I want to be, qualities I want to embody as I show up and Less Successful = entire focus on what I do, with no consciousness of the energy I bring to doing it

Success = discipline to do the work even on days when I’m not in the mood and Less Successful = only showing up for my dream when I’m super inspired and motivated

Success = loving the questions life is bringing forward, an attitude of curiosity and Less Successful = anger and frustration that I don’t know the answer right this minute

Success = trusting myself to move forward with what I know right now and Less Successful = self doubt and always waiting to know more before taking action

Success = being open to the surprising, unexpected ways dreams and goals can manifest and Less Successful = talking myself out of the dream when I can’t see a clear, linear, logical path; not trusting Higher Intelligence

Success = moving forward with the tools and help I have right now and Less Successful = waiting for the perfect circumstances before taking action

Success = exploring the journey one step at a time and Less Successful = waiting to know my ultimate destination, and what each step looks like, before I even start

Success = asking a question that brings forward creative thinking – “How can I…” and Less Successful = Continually asking questions that result in self-limiting thinking – “Why can’t I…”, “Why don’t I ever…”.

Success = clarity on my area of stewardship, my life mission; maintaining focus on what I can change and Less Successful = compassion fatigue, despair, overwhelm to the point of doing nothing

Success = willingness to get there in my unique way, in my own time and Less Successful = compare and despair, other people’s lives are better; other people are smarter, richer, more talented, more successful, more celebrated, etc. so I’m either going to not bother or else simply attempt to imitate someone else

Success = loving myself no matter what and Less Successful = believing my worst thoughts about myself; hating myself when I don’t succeed in the traditional measures of success

Success = being grateful for every step on my journey, and what it is teaching me and Less Successful = being bitter at the hand that life has dealt me

This is my definition today; it might well change tomorrow as my life experience helps me evolve. I’d love to get beyond a black-and-white view of life that labels things as success or failure. For now, it has been so engrained in my thinking that I have to trick my brain with how I define success or I’m too paralyzed to move forward with anything outside my current comfort zone.

I encourage you to tell your story and define your life in your own terms. My first marriage ended in divorce (and not a happy, let’s be friends and keep in touch, version). I don’t call my divorce a failure – I call it “practice”. Defining success and failure in my own terms allowed me to quit telling a bitter story of regret and failure, and to quit blaming, and judging my choices and experiences as wrong. Instead I was able to turn my focus to what I learned and how I wanted to grow. Embracing the lessons in that experience allowed me to be open and vulnerable again, to be a better partner and build a new kind of relationship. Now I’ve been happily married over 20 years. I accept that my first marriage was exactly the experience I needed. Deep pain uncovers the opportunity for a wealth of growth and evolution.

Choose the definition of success that works for you. Choose a definition that supports your growth and evolution. Avoid the trap of letting others define your success or failure. Have faith and trust in yourself and your journey.


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21 Ways to Define Success – Measuring Success Part 1

I’ve been through a brutal year. That’s the honest truth of it.

A year that’s required me to look at everything I think I know and ask hard questions.

During this year I’ve thought a lot about success and failure – what those terms mean and how I define them. I share my thoughts on success and failure with the intention of inspiring you to expand your definition of success, rather than measure yourself by someone else’s narrow and limited definition.

My Definition of Success: Learning something important about…

  1. What I’ll fight for.
  2. How hard I’ll fight.
  3. Becoming the person that can achieve the dream.
  4. Savoring the richness of the journey.
  5. Being willing to pause and rest, as well as work and persevere.
  6. Embracing life’s challenges with a strong and open heart.
  7. Leveraging my strengths and gifts.
  8. Authenticity – being who I am and not trying to be what I’m not.
  9. Letting go of control and perfectionism; letting life be messy, complex, unpredictable, scary and exciting.
  10. My freedom to make different choices than I have in the past.
  11. Nourishing my spirit and realizing I don’t have to earn the right to do something good for myself.
  12. Looking for the unexpected gift, the silver lining, the brilliant insight that puts Light on everything I’ve been through.
  13. Creating an uplifting and supportive environment (both inner and outer) that’s a sanctuary of peace and calm in trying times.
  14. Finding balance and not working in a way that ruins my health and body.
  15. Getting inspired and creative when obstacles appear, rather than giving up.
  16. Not taking myself too seriously – or even taking my dream of changing the world too seriously – bringing play and joy into the process.
  17. Giving myself permission to acknowledge and celebrate the small, incremental wins (rather than waiting for some far-distant definition of ultimate success before I enjoy and celebrate life).
  18. Gaining insight regarding when to stick with a goal and when it is time to let go, reinvent, & reimagine a new goal.
  19. Becoming aware of the clues that inform my next step.
  20. Making a soul connection with those I’m traveling with on my journey.
  21. Accessing intuition, inspiration, and clarity around my next step.

In the final analysis I ask myself, did what I went through…

Teach me

Change me

Inspire me

Challenge me

Wake me up – bring forward something I haven’t been conscious of

Open my heart

Open the door to a new path, new choices and opportunities

Give me clarity on what I do and don’t want in life

Connect me with someone wonderful

Help me ask a better question, one that reveals a new perspective

Push me to grow and evolve

My Definition of Failure: Learning nothing, changing nothing, on the inner or outer level.

In life there are many paths, many doors to go through. If one doesn’t work, that informs my next choice, and has given me important information I can use to move forward.

Sometimes we do cross a definitive finish line – we accomplish the degree, promotion, number on the paycheck, we publish the book, reach the business goal, run the marathon, marry our life partner, become a parent, we achieve the award and have our accomplishment recognized by others. Other steps forward are subtle, and in the moment may feel like a misstep, a waste of time, even an epic fail.

In those times, an accurate assessment of where we’ve been can restore hope and trust in ourselves and in our future. A new perspective on success can give us faith we’re following the guidance of our heart, and progressing in the perfect way to ultimately fulfill our life mission(s). An awareness of the inner shifts that have happened can give the confidence to take outer action. Gratitude and appreciation for every step, no matter how challenging, allows us to feel joy and delight in the journey we’re creating.

Hope for the future, curiosity to try a new approach, and willingness to keep learning and moving forward – that’s my true measure of success.


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