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Dealing with setbacks and failures


“Good as gold”, the cab driver replied as I nervously handed him the $20 note and asked “Okay?”. He jumped in his cab and drove off.

I was pleasantly surprised by his politeness as I was expecting him to argue with me for extra money because we went around in circles searching for the address that I had given him at the airport. These were the pre-GPS days of course!

This was the start of my emotional rollercoaster upon arrival in New Zealand as a new migrant.

The first few days were filled with excitement and happiness. Discovering a new country, meeting friendly people, learning new things – all these experiences made me a wide-eyed migrant seduced by the charms of my new surroundings.

After a few weeks, the rollercoaster took a downward dive as I started getting frustrated with a spate of rejections. All my job applications brought forth polite rejection letters. The message I was getting was that my lack of local experience made me very unappealing to prospective employers. Nobody was willing to even interview me!

How was I going to break out of this Catch-22 situation? I couldn’t get local experience without a job, but I couldn’t get a job without local experience!

After months of fruitless searching, the rollercoaster finally took an upward turn. Driven to despair by the unwillingness of employers to grant me an interview, I decided to enrol in a university to acquire a local qualification in the hope that it might open a door for me. This out-of-the-box thinking got me my first job through a contact from the university. At last, a feeling of joy!

I felt that my problems had ended, and now I was set for a long and successful career in my adopted country. How wrong I was! It was time for the emotional rollercoaster to start its downward journey again.

Within a few months, my joy turned to confusion when I found my employer’s behaviour go from being very pleased with me to finding fault with everything I did almost overnight. I struggled to understand what had changed.

A little while later I realized that my employer had hired me only to take advantage of a government scheme that subsidised (for a fixed term) employers who hired new migrants.

I started getting blamed for things that had nothing to do with me. Other people’s mistakes were somehow being attributed to me. My employer’s cunning plan was to make my life so difficult that I would quit the job. That way there wouldn’t be any awkward questions from the government department for him to answer about hiring me and then firing me within a few months.

I felt an overarching sense of sadness and disappointment when I realized that my initial thoughts of everyone in my new country being friendly was just an illusion. I learned the lesson that people were people, some good and some not-so-good, no matter what part of the world they were in. I parted ways with my first employer in rather unpleasant circumstances.

The long period of unemployment that followed created self-doubts in my mind.

“Did I do the right thing by moving countries?”

“Would I ever succeed in finding decent employment?”

Feelings of regret began to run riot in my mind.

“Why didn’t I find out more about my employment prospects in this country before deciding to move here lock, stock, and barrel?” “I shouldn’t have taken such a big risk”

Every time I heard about someone that I knew doing well back home, I felt sorry for myself. I started feeling like I’d made a mistake by moving to New Zealand. As I had burned bridges before migrating, I felt there was no way of going back and restarting from where I had left off.

By the time the rollercoaster took another upward turn, I had already been in the country for quite a while. It took four to five years for my career to stabilize and for me to start feeling satisfied with my decision of migrating to New Zealand. When you migrate to a new country, it’s not just the flight that is long- haul!

The reason for describing the story of my emotional rollercoaster is to share my experiences and consequent learnings with you. My hope is that if you ever find yourself in a similar situation, you might be able to alleviate your feelings of hopelessness with the realization that you’re not alone and you can get out of any difficult situation with the right mindset.


I’d like to encapsulate this journey of going from ‘where you are’ to ‘where you want to be’ in terms of “The Six Ps”- three Ps for what one shouldn’t do, and three Ps for what one should do.

Let’s first take a look at the three Ps to avoid –

1. Don’t take setbacks or adversities PERSONALLY – It is important to separate your failures from your identity.

Learning to handle rejections, setbacks, or problems without letting them become a personal issue is crucial. If we take everything personally, our self-esteem takes a beating and we could easily go down the rabbit holes of despair and depression.

I was rejected over 200 times, without even getting an interview call, before I got my first job. While I would never want to be in that situation again, or ever wish that upon anyone, I realize that I was fortunate not to allow myself to get dragged deep into the swamp of feeling worthless. In hindsight, I believe that this tough phase played a key role in building my resilience.

2. Don’t allow a failure to become All-PERVASIVE – A failure or setback in one area of your life should remain contained to that area and not spill over into other areas.

When my emotional rollercoaster was on a downward slope, it felt natural for me to start linking my failure in landing a job to every other aspect of life in the new country. Negative thoughts started doing the rounds in my mind.

“I’m a misfit here”

“This place is not right for us” “I am doomed”

The unfortunate consequence of such pervasive thinking is that it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy unless you stop this vicious cycle before it becomes too late. Enrolling in a course was the best step I took at that time as it gave my mind something else to focus on.

3. Don’t think of any adversity as PERMANENT – Every crisis in the history of the world has ended. However difficult your challenge might seem, there will always be light at the end of the tunnel. You may not be able to see it from where you are now, but take comfort in the history of the world and assure yourself that your crisis will also have an end.

My challenge with finding a job as a migrant went on for a long time but eventually, it did end. If I had adopted a mindset of permanence with thoughts like “I’m never going to succeed here”, my efforts would have waned. When our efforts start to taper off, the desired results start moving further away from us.

Now for the three Ps to adopt!

1. Have PATIENCE – I’m sure you’ve heard the expression “good things take time”. Have faith in that!

Some things take longer than we would like. That’s just life. Have the willingness to wait as you keep following the process. Dedicate yourself to the process and allow the results to happen.

2. Develop PERSEVERANCE – Too often people give up just before they’re about to crack the code. The ability to continue their efforts in the face of difficulty or forge through delay in the way of their success is what separates the winners from the also-rans.

Life is like an obstacle race. Get better at tackling the obstacles and continuing your journey towards your objectives. Take help, reach out for support – do whatever it takes to keep going.

3. Find your PURPOSE – I believe that this third P underpins the other two Ps that you should do to achieve success.

Without a strong purpose, it becomes easy to give up when the going gets tough. Purpose provides the fuel for motivation.

Figure out why you want what you want. What is driving you? Go deep, look beneath the surface – sometimes your real WHY can be hidden under superficial WHYs.

It can be difficult to have patience and perseverance if you don’t know the true purpose behind your goals.

What do you think of the Six P principle? Can you adopt this in your life to face challenges and come out on top?

Life is a journey of ups and downs. Realizing and accepting this fact puts us in a much better position to handle adversities. Most of our disappointment in life comes from having unrealistic expectations.

If you’re ready to handle the ups and downs of this rollercoaster of life, buckle yourself in, and enjoy the ride!!!

Shiv Kumar professional head shot

Shiv Kumar is a career and personal development coach based in Auckland, New Zealand. With a background of 35 years at various levels in the corporate world, his mission is to help people like his former self break through mid-career blues and find satisfaction and fulfillment in their careers and lives.


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