How to Use Setbacks as Rocket Fuel for Your Evolution

by | Oct 20, 2023 | Get Inspired

Life is not easy. Let’s just put that out there right away. Despite what we see on social media highlights reels, the truth is we all face difficulty and challenges.

Being human means enduring struggles. But here’s the thing – it’s precisely those hardships that define us. The adversity we go through becomes the fire that forges our character.

The Moments That Define Us Emerge From Darkness

Emerge From Darkness

I’ve come to believe that our darkest moments often lead to our brightest breakthroughs. When we feel knocked down, cornered, uncertain – that’s when we dig deep. We find strength, courage and wisdom that was lying dormant within. We discover capabilities beyond what we realized we possessed.

In other words – the moments that most grow and shape us typically come from overcoming struggle and doubt. Rather than break us, hardship can be the making of us, if we rise up to meet it.

The Cocoon Stage – When Everything Is Easy

First, it’s important to remember that humans tend to coast when life is easy. Think back to when you were a kid perhaps. Those summers that seemed endless, where your biggest concern was making sure you got to the pool on time.

When we’re comfortable, we don’t push ourselves or strive for more. We tend to stay in our lane, content with the familiar. I call this the cocoon stage. It’s cozy, it’s warm, it’s womb-like. We can relax inside this protective shell, free of anxiety.

But there’s a danger to the cocoon. See, while cocoons keep us safe, they also prevent growth.

We can’t spread our wings if we stay bundled up tightly, never venturing beyond what we know.

We need the struggle and friction of life to help us evolve into the fullest version of ourselves. Just like labor contractions push the baby into the world, our darkest hours often become the unlikely catalyst for breakthrough.

Facing The Fire

When life starts throwing us curveballs, our first instinct is usually avoidance. We flinch in the face of opposition or uncertainty. Fear kicks in, triggering our fight or flight response. We look for an escape hatch to circumvent the impending trial.

Here’s where most of us go wrong though – we fail to believe in ourselves enough to face the fire. We underestimate our capacity for growth when the heat gets turned up. So we play small, we play safe, forfeiting the opportunity that lives within our difficulty.

See, there’s almost always a gift, a lesson, a blessing we can receive when we have the courage to walk straight into what we dread most. I’m talking about those defining do-or-die moments that challenge us to our core. We can let them destroy us, or let them remake us. It comes down to mindset.

The Blessings Hidden Within Your Hardships

Blessings Hidden Within Your Hardships

My Dark Night Of The Soul

Let me get personal for a moment. A few years back, I went through what I can only describe as a dark night of the soul. Within a short period, I lost my business, my relationship crumbled, and I got dangerously close to financial ruin.

My mindset at the time was extremely weak. I interpreted all the external events through the lens of lack, fear and scarcity. I felt like the world was collapsing around me. It seemed like a cruel joke, a never-ending apocalypse.

Needless to say, I didn’t handle the situation gracefully. I stressed morning, noon and night. I barely ate or slept. Negative thoughts and worst case scenarios plagued me without end. I basically had a full blown existential crisis, questioning my purpose and self worth.

In hindsight, I can see that I had two clear options before me. I could either:

A) Continue down the spiral of despair and victimhood. Let the darkness break me fully.


B) Use the difficulty as rocket fuel for radical growth. Allow it to spur me to higher heights.

As you may have guessed, I initially chose option A. I just allowed the suffering to wash over me in wave after wave. I surrendered to it, absorbing the blows helplessly.

But after weeks of self-pity and isolation, I realized I was only making things worse. I knew deep down I had a choice – lean into the pain or let it bury me.

I could stay in my corner, licking my wounds. Or I could view the events as preparation for a comeback, the darkness before my new dawn.

That’s when something inside me clicked. Almost like a switch being flipped in my mind. My perspective shifted completely. Suddenly, instead of drowning in despair, I started looking for the invitation encoded within the perceived disaster.

After all, I knew that pressure creates diamonds. Seeds need dark soil to take root. Caterpillars have to dissolve completely before emerging transformed as butterflies.

So I made a firm decision – I would meet this moment eye to eye and heart to heart. I would search for the hidden gift, however small. I would expect this breakdown to lead to my grand breakthrough. And that’s exactly what happened…

My Phoenix Moment

The weeks and months that followed my dark night of the soul turned out to be hugely transformative for me. My thinking became sharper and more lucid. I learned about mindfulness – how to observe thoughts without getting wrapped up in them.

I started taking full ownership over my emotions and inner state, rather than making myself a victim of circumstance. I tapped into wellsprings of strength, perseverance and calm I never knew I possessed.

Out of the rubble emerged a new, upgraded version of myself. Where I had been rigid, I became more fluid. My vision expanded where once it had been narrow and restricted by fear.

Most importantly, I embraced the mindset of the phoenix. I realized sometimes we need to burn to ash before we can rise again, reborn. We have let the old version crumble so the best version can be built.

Everything changed when I stopped resisting my circumstance, and started cooperating with it. Once I got out of my own way, radical growth and alchemy ensued. My dark night turned out to be a divine gift.

From Rock Bottom To New Heights

Near rock bottom is often exactly where we need to be for the big breakthroughs to occur. When our backs are against the wall, we activate highest, truest potential. Strength and wisdom emerge that we can access no other way.

Let me share a few examples of famous setbacks that proved to be unlikely catalysts for greatness down the road:

  • Oprah was publicly fired from her first television job as an anchor. She went on to become the queen of media and build a net worth of $2.6 billion.
  • Walt Disney was fired from his newspaper job due to “lacking ideas”. He went on to create Disneyland.
  • Michael Jordan was cut from his high school basketball team before going on to become the greatest NBA player of all time.
  • Nelson Mandela spent 27 years in prison before dismantling apartheid and becoming President of South Africa.

The list goes on and on. The point is – our greatest breakthroughs often require the difficulty that came before. Seemingly devastating setbacks plant the seeds for prospering in due time. But we have to shift our perspective to see it.

The Hidden Gift In Your Current Struggle

Chances are you are dealing with your own share of hardship right now. Unemployment, money problems, health challenges, relationship troubles. Maybe even all of the above, and then some.

It’s easy to get tunnel vision when we’re suffering. Life feels unfair, like it will never get better. But try to consider – where might opportunity be embedded within the difficulty you face today? What gifts might adversity be trying to deliver, if only you could see them?

Do your best to pivot your mindset. Be on the lookout for hidden blessings that want to emerge. The breakthrough you need most likely lives on the other side of this current hardship. But you have to keep the faith. You have to believe good things are being born, even if you can’t see them yet.

A gymnast doesn’t build strength overnight. It takes months and months of training to develop flexibility and power. Likewise, our character muscles must be worked and challenged in order to grow. Don’t shun the resistance you’re facing. See it as strength training for a greater you.

Consider that coal just needs the right pressure and heat to become a beautiful diamond. You are that precious diamond in the making. Don’t fear the fire – let it purify you. The more difficulties you overcome, the more brilliant you become. You’ve got this!

Face Your Future Boldly

Face Your Future Boldly

Thriving in adversity is not easy, but it is simple. We just have to change the way we relate to tough times when they come around. We can either resist them and increase our pain, or embrace them as fuel for growth.

Next time you get knocked down, remember the phoenix. You have the seeds of greatness within. Lean into the darkness and let it strengthen you. Find the hidden gift, then rise up more powerful than before.

You will look back one day with gratitude for the struggles that made you wiser and stronger. The future belongs to the bold. Believe in yourself. Your breakthrough awaits! Now spread your wings and take flight.