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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Productivity

3 Ways You Can Get Back on Track After a Major Setback (and Still Hit Your Goals)

You did everything right. You set a realistic goal. You created an action plan with small, manageable tasks. You asked for support when you needed it. You monitored your progress and solicited feedback.

Then suddenly, something unexpected happens. It’s more than a speed bump: It’s a full-on roadblock. Maybe your budget got cut. Or your only client went bankrupt. Or your new boss wants to take things in a new direction. Or a friend or family member fell sick. Your goal suddenly became mission impossible.

Earlier this year, I hit a roadblock of my own while training for a marathon. After months of training and running several successful races, I got injured and was advised to take a break. Accepting this news was really difficult and stressful for me, especially because it’s a major goal I’d been working towards for several months. After taking some time off, I knew it would be impossible for me to get back into shape in time for the race. So, rather than letting all of my hard work go to waste, I focused on redirecting my energy into other productive goals. I found a way to make the best of the situation and capitalize on the experiences and skills I had gained.

Here’s what I learned that you can apply to your own goals:

1. Identify the Skills You Gained

Through my marathon training, I gained great time management skills (e.g., fitting in all those long workouts!), mental toughness, and a solid level of physical fitness. I learned a lot about sports nutrition and how to fuel my body properly. I also developed a great network of supportive friends and family, and lots of knowledgeable running buddies.

Even when you don’t get to see your goal through to completion, look for the valuable lessons you learned and resources you developed. For example, say you’re an event planner and the shindig you spent two months planning got canceled at the last minute. Even though you didn’t get to run the actual affair, I’m guessing you got great experience managing a budget, negotiating with suppliers, leading a team, and managing logistics. And yes, these are all skills you’ll be able to leverage in another situation.

2. Understand Your True Motivation

When I took the time to really think about it, my desire to run a marathon really had nothing to do with running (or even fitness). It was really about wanting to accomplish something physically and mentally challenging on my own. Much of my career and volunteer work is team-oriented, and I liked the idea of achieving something independently. Plus, I’ll admit it: I also wanted the accolades that come with that kind of achievement.

So, ask yourself: Why did you set your sights on this in the first place? This will help you understand the value that underlies the goal in the first place. If you wanted to take on a project for a new client in a new country, maybe your underlying desire is to travel. If you tried to launch your own initiative, maybe you’re searching for a sense of total ownership over something.

Knowing what truly motivates you will help you move forward.

3. Find a New Goal

Once I realized I wanted to do something mentally and physically challenging—by myself—I knew I needed to find another athletic challenge (that wouldn’t exacerbate my injury). I also knew that I was great at juggling a busy schedule around taxing workouts; I had learned a lot about proper sports nutrition to maintain good energy levels; and I was still in decent shape.

I ultimately found that swimming and cycling were great solo sports that I could do without much pain. So, I concentrated all my energy and effort into those. Now I’m a much stronger cyclist and swimmer than I ever thought I would be—and I look forward to racing several triathlons next season!

So, let’s say you tried to launch a side gig doing some freelance writing work, but it proved to be too much of a time commitment. You don’t have to give up your editorial interests altogether, you just have to look for a new outlet. Instead, you might mention at your next meeting with your boss that you’d love to be more involved in creating content for your company, helping with anything from a newsletter to refreshing the copy on the website.

By focusing on your new skills, your true motivation, and a fresh project, you will find that you can spin a major goal setback into a more exciting and fulfilling opportunity.

Photo of runner courtesy of Shutterstock.