When Setbacks Happen
Even when you have clear goals and are motivated and focused to achieve them, problems sometimes happen. Accept that they will happen, since inevitably they do for everyone. The difference between those who succeed by solving the problem and moving on and those who get frustrated and give up is partly attitude and partly experience —and knowing how to cope when a problem occurs. We learned about this in Chapter 2 and can think of is as resiliency.
Resilient people see problems as challenges and use them as an opportunity to learn.
Planning Helps Avoid Problems
Some things happen that we cannot prevent. But many other kinds of problems can be prevented or made less likely to occur.
- You can take steps to stay healthy.
- You can take control of your finances and avoid most financial problems common among college students.
- You can learn how to build successful social relationships and get along better with your professors, with other students, and in personal relationships.
- You can learn and apply time management techniques to ensure you use your time effectively for studying.
- You can learn to do well in your classes with effective reading, notetaking, test-taking, and writing skills for classes.
By applying some of the strategies covered in the previous chapters, you have a better chance to prevent the problems that typically keep college students from succeeding.
Do you have a backup plan for when things go wrong (because they will at one point or another)? Your buss will be late, your car won’t start, your kids will be sick, your laptop may break, your group members don’t show up for a project, your internet goes down, etc.
Identifying potential problems and creating a back up plan will help you feel prepared. It might include:
- Getting to know your classmates, professors, and building a good social network of support.
- Knowing what resources are available to you if you need them and how to get in touch with them quickly.
- Reaching out immediately when the problem starts to become real to ask for help and gather options and help (i.e. my group member dropped the class last night and didn’t complete their part of the project).
- Keeping everyone up to date as you work through the problem (i.e. I am heading into the college to use the internet and would like to request a short extension on the assignment).
Review the chapter on communication skills. Contingency planning starts with good communication to set expectations.
Lots of different kinds of setbacks may happen while you’re in college — just as to everyone in life.
- A financial crisis
- An illness or injury
- A crisis involving family members or loved ones
- Stress related to frequently feeling you don’t have enough time
- Stress related to relationship problems
First, work to resolve the immediate problem:
- Stay motivated and focused. Don’t let frustration, anxiety, or other negative emotions make the problem worse than it already is.
- Analyze the problem to consider all possible solutions. An unexpected financial setback doesn’t automatically mean you have to drop out of school – not when alternatives such as student loans, less expensive living arrangements, or other possible solutions may be available. Failing a midterm exam doesn’t automatically mean you’re going to fail the course – not when you make the effort to determine what went wrong, work with your professor and others on an improved study plan, and use better strategies to prepare for the next test.
- Seek help when you need to. None of us gets through life alone, and it’s not a sign of weakness to see your academic advisor or a college counsellor if you have a problem.
- When you’ve developed a plan for resolving the problem, work to follow through. If it will take a while before the problem is completely solved, track your progress in smaller steps so that you can see you really are succeeding. Every day will move you one step closer to putting it behind you.
After you’ve solved a problem, reflect on what happened to develop a strategy that will help avoid the same problem in the future:
- Be honest with yourself: how did you contribute to the problem? Sometimes it’s obvious: a student who drank heavily at a party the night before a big test failed the exam because he was so hung over he couldn’t think straight. Sometimes the source of the problem is not as obvious but may become clearer the more you think about it. Another student did a lot of partying during the term but studied all day before the big test and was well rested and clearheaded at test time but still did poorly; he may not yet have learned good study skills. Another student has frequent colds and other mild illnesses that keep him from doing his best: how much better would he feel if he ate well, got plenty of exercise, and slept enough every night? If you don’t honestly explore the factors that led to the problem, it’s more likely to happen again.
- Take responsibility for your life and your role in what happens to you. Earlier we talked about people with negative attitudes, who are always blaming others, fate, or “the system” for their problems. It’s no coincidence that they keep on having problems. Unless you want to keep having problems, don’t keep blaming others.
- Taking responsibility doesn’t mean being down on yourself. Failing at something doesn’t mean you are a failure. We all fail at something, sometime. Adjust your attitude so you’re ready to get back on track and feel happy that you’ll never make that mistake again!
- Make a plan. You might still have a problem on that next big test if you don’t make an effective study plan and stick to it. You may need to change your behaviour in some way, such as learning time management strategies.
College is meant to reflect real world work experiences. If you can’t make it to work, you would contact work to let them know. Practice this skill while at school. Who would you add to your contingency team and crisis management team?
Create a list of important contact people that you can add to your phone or post where you can see it. This should include work, friends, family and school contacts. See the Fanshawe Resources section at the end of this chapter to help.
“2 Successful students take responsibility ” from A Guide for Successful Students by Irene Stewart and Aaron Maisonville is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.
Identifying potential problems and creating a back up plan for when things go wrong.
Involves working to resolve the immediate problem first and then reflecting on what happened to develop a strategy that will help avoid the same problem in the future.