Turning a setback into a comeback

Have you ever wanted something so intensely that it seemed impossible to imagine it not coming to fruition? You endlessly pour every waking hour of excitable energy dreaming, scheming, planning, practicing and visualizing. When there is something that we want, the fire of passion burns so intensely that it feels as if nothing could possibly stop us, that is, until we face a major set back.

NB: I wrote this article back in January 2015 after my surfing injury, but now, seven months later it’s relative all over again with my sever back injury. The universe works in mysterious ways.

If you read this post about me learning to surf, you’ll know it’s been a goal of mine for almost a year now. Before I even set off on my journey I already had a set back – a crippling fear of the ocean. But with time and determination to stop being a victim of my own fear, I managed to work through it and get back in the water and I’ve since been surfing at every opportunity.

Two weeks ago I was surfing with a friend and I casually jumped off the back of a wave away from my board as per usual, but by chance the force of the wave pulling on my board built up tension in my leg rope. While I was underwater, it bungeed back at me and crashed straight into my face, instantly breaking my nose. I grabbed my face and swam to the surface. No panic or fear set in until much later when I was at the hospital, where I was told I needed to have reconstructive surgery due to sinus damage, and a few months out of the water for recovery and healing.

If the doctor hadn’t advised me not to cry (the pressure would have hurt my sinuses even more) I would have broken down in despair on the hospital floor. I was completely shattered. Every part of me ached with grief. The sting of the setback hurt me more than the broken nose itself.

I know when I eventually get back in the water it will be like to be going back to square one. I won’t have any paddle fitness, I’ll probably be wobbly and downright terrified of the board attached to my ankle, but all I can do is learn everything I can from this experience and share how I’ve coped with the setback so far:

1. Come to terms with the situation

With the initial blow of a setback, we are faced with an overwhelming myriad of negative emotions: Shame, disappointment, grief, disbelief, and even denial. I decided to really tap back into my spirituality and upped the amount of yoga I practice (even though I can’t do half the asanas!) and placed my faith in the universe that everything has happened for a reason. After all, the surf was much bigger the next day and who knows… I could have drowned. I always find so much comfort in the trust that there is a bigger and better plan for me.

Do everything you can to live in the present moment and avoid playing the blame game. It’s time to objectively acknowledge and accept what cannot be changed.

2. Stay inspired

Sometimes the sense of failure can distort our perceptions of our abilities so much that we no longer feel up to the task or think we are way less capable of achieving the goal than we actually are. We give up. Faced with the fact that I had to spend a week in bed, while outside there was a great swell, perfect southerly breezes and gorgeous sunny weather, I could either fall into a funk or harness this energy to keep the burning fire in my belly alive. Usually being told you can’t do something can make you want to do it even more and even push your boundaries to somewhere new.

I decided to download a bunch of surf movies and buy a bunch of surf magazines under lots of different genres. What inspired you once will inspire you again. Don’t give into the ego’s temptation and lose sight of what you originally set out to accomplish.

3. Open up about your experience

When you have two black eyes and a swollen nose, many strange glances are cast your way. At first I covered up with a hat and sunglasses, but found that once I started to repeat the story to my barista, friends or people in the street, I was surprised at how many people had been in the same boat as me. Sharing my experience started to make me feel like less of a victim and more of another brick in the wall. Everyone faces challenges, everyone hits ups and downs in life and everyone works through them differently. Just because your particular challenge in your particular circumstance feels unique and lonely to you, chances are its not unique to everyone else.

4. Write up an action plan

After I started surfing, I started to realize how complicated the sport was. It’s all good to grab a board and jump in the ocean, but a friend recommended breaking down surfing, like any endeavor in life, into bite-sized pieces. I found I began progressing much faster once I tackled one thing at a time. The same goes for a setback. Putting a plan in place to get you through times of adversity not only gives you something manageable to work towards but it keeps you from feeling overwhelmed and lost.

5. Give yourself time 

They say time heals all wounds. And they are right. Just as we need to allow time for wounds and broken hearts to mend, we need to allow ourselves time to overcome our setbacks. With each passing day the feelings of grief will leave you. But don’t rush it. Impatience only makes them harder and longer than they need to be. Remember that success and failure are not separate. Success and failure are on the same path. Your path. They depend on each other and run parallel to your journey, whatever twists and turns it may take.