5 Steps To Overcoming a Major Setback

This post comes from our Australia contributor, Miann Scanlan. Follow along with her on Instagram @freepeopleaustralia

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 into the abyss of possibility, 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.

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.


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9 years ago

I agree. Sometimes I just have to take a moment to write everything down and come up with an action plan. That’s how I feel better, knowing that I have a plan to help me move forward.


9 years ago

Such a wonderful post! I think its awesome how your experience results in a positive learning experience!

Best Wishes,

The Weaver Of Words….give me 15 words and I’ll tell you a tale….

9 years ago

Wow. This is powerful and thank you for putting it out there. You are so brave to get back in but surfing is such a beautiful thing. I so admire the way you are able to see the silver lining and make a plan to combat your fear.

Warm Regards,

9 years ago

I love this so much. There’s been plenty of times where I have seen myself being setback, and where I felt like giving up. Honestly I go through this whole cycle every week for things that I have planned out for myself. But this reminded me to keep my head high and keep going.

Thank you for this! Really! :)


9 years ago

Thank you for posting this! I just injured my knee and it’s kept me out of my passions, my physical activity in general has had to shift to something different.
I struggled at the beginning to accept this change, but like you, I’ve tried to welcome the opportunity to do more yoga, slow down for once in my life and try new things (stair master! crazy strength workouts! rolfing!). It’s been such a lesson.

9 years ago

So needed this. And the images, the ocean always serves to inspire!





9 years ago

Thank you so much for this post. I was recently diagnosed with depression and anxiety, and although different than having an accident while surfing, it felt like a setback similar to this. You wrote down what I’ve been trying to figure out on my own, and you have no idea how much it’s helped me get through today! I feel a lot more confident going forward.

9 years ago

dear SARAH, or anyone out there facing depression:
try art and / or music therapy. give yourself the time you need to see progress.
depression is not something, that goes by when you’re not actively working on it.
take a heart and remember, sometimes you’re ahead, sometimes you’re behind.
all that matters is what you gain from it. the worst experiences in life could be your
greatest resources one day. i wish you all the best.

9 years ago

I too have been through a bad setback recently of anxiety and depression and feeling that it will never end. Free people blog has given me inspiration and light throughout this hard time so I wish to thank all of the writer and artists that put themselves out there and create such beauty. This post is truly inspirational and so very true, no matter how hard the setback is to follow the steps you have written here will help to get through the dark tunnel and come through the other side. Thanks for the inspiration always.xx

9 years ago

You have handled your situation admirably! I’ve had a couple of almost terrible accidents whilst surfing in Bali last year and it’s safe to say it definitely knocked my confidence, but I agree and think that staying inspired is key! I really admire your will and determination to master surfing! Really inspiring post!


9 years ago

this was so truly inspirational! great job and i love the tips that you gave above! they are so helpful <3

9 years ago

this is amazing. i’ve been wanting to learn how to surf for almost four years now and cannot get myself to it just because i´m terrified of getting injured or not being able to get out of the ocean once i’m there.