How successful people deal with failures and setbacks

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Being a Swede, I have to share this behind-the-scenes story from IKEA.

The guy who started IKEA, Ingvar Kamprad, took frugality to new levels. For example, IKEA employees are not allowed to live in hotels in cities that have IKEA stores. Instead, they have to sleep in designated bedrooms inside the stores.

Ingvar Kamprad’s car

There are stories about how he got furious if he found out that an employee still would spend a night at a hotel.

But when IKEA expanded into Russia, they ran into problems. They had to cancel their expansion and lost hundreds of millions of dollars.

So one would assume Ingvar Kamprad to explode in fury, right?

The saying goes that he just shrugged and said: “That’s a lesson for the future”.

Embedded into this anecdote is a mindset that most successful people share: As long as you can extract a lesson from a setback, it’s valuable to you.

Ingvar got furious about spending money on things that didn’t teach him anything new. But failures and setbacks that teach you something can be seen as gifts rather than something negative.

Learning to adapt this mindset has helped me immensely. Whenever I mess up (whether it be in a social setting or in life in general), I take a step back. “Wait a minute. Is there something I can learn from this?”.

This has two benefits.

  1. It helps me to adapt and try a different approach next time
  2. My embarrassment or pain wasn’t in vain. It was more like a tuition I paid for a valuable lesson.

One example is that time I was invited to a high-end business event and talked way too much about myself. That night was an embarrassing failure (and my mess-up caused me to lose the nomination of “Young Entrepreneur of the Year”). But I was able to extract a lesson from it: Be more interested in others.

What are some setbacks or failures you’ve had recently that you can learn from? I’d love to hear in the comments!

David Morin is the founder of SocialPro. He's been writing about social skills since 2012. Follow on Twitter or read more.

Go to Comments (3)

3 thoughts on “How successful people deal with failures and setbacks”

  1. Hi David

    I’ve been following Social Pro for a while now and began to implement your daily system strategy. Initially I found this really helped and I became a lot more confident in talking to people on a casual basis. However, now I feel confident doing that I’ve struggled to take that further and start building friendships and relationships with the new people I am talking to. While I write out everyday a couple of steps to take today to ask deeper questions or suggest getting to talk properly, everyday I struggle to make myself do them and as a result they’re becoming meaningless. I am feeling myself get stuck unable to build new friendships as I want to, and to spend less time alone and am losing my confidence. Any Advice? I know this may not be the best place to ask but I couldn’t think of anything else to do.

    • Hi Jacob, I hear you. It’s actually more common than you might think to get in the situation you describe. You could say you’ve reached a plateau in your personal development. Now we need to change paths to take you to the next level. Because as you say, when you don’t complete your goals, they become meaningless.

      So first thing I’d do is stop setting new goals. Take a step back and look at what you’ve been trying to achieve and why you struggled with certain steps. Are there any ways you can break up those steps in smaller chunks? Try starting over with something easier that you will be able to do 100%, it shouldn’t be trivial, but it’s most important that you set goals that are realistically achievable for you. Also, think through what you will do when you encounter the types of obstacles that have stopped you from doing your goals so far. For example, if it’s lack of motivation or time, what can you do to solve that? And also have some sort of fall-back strategy if you fail, so you don’t just quit.

      You could also try a completely new strategy. What strategy depends on your goals and what you’ve already tried. Here’s a suggestion: I think one of the best ways to make friends is joining some sort of group of like-minded people.


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