A Setback Isn’t a Detour From Your Path

“A setback isn’t a detour from her path” is my favorite line from Rachel Simmons’ book. Here’s how to apply her wisdom to your life too.

“A setback isn’t a detour from her path. It is her path.”

– Rachel Simmons, Enough as She Is

A friend recommended Rachel Simmons’ book when my daughter started taking ballet seriously. Many ballerinas suffer from anxiety, perfectionism, and depression, particularly from losing auditions for rare, important roles.

One of the moms in the ballet troupe was always working for her daughter. This ‘helpful’ did everything she could to help her daughter get the parts she wanted. According to Rachel Simmons (and according to my wife), this was a bad idea.

What Rachel Simmons says applies to young ladies bridging adolescence to adulthood is the same for all of us. We’ll all have setbacks on the way to what we want, and most of us won’t get everything we want.

How The Setback is Your Stoic Path

Many happiness quotes are fluffy. They can make you feel good and motivate you, but they don’t have much substance. Practical and realistic, Simmons’ quote represents a staple of Stoic philosophy. It’s similar to Marcus Aureleuas’ quote:

“The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way.”

Trying to avoid obstacles and setbacks makes for a miserable life. They are unavoidable. Not realizing this and letting each setback get you down will wreck your happiness. Many readers of Stoic philosophy go so far as to suggest using obstacles as a compass.

Paths to greatness and success are challenging journeys, and any course that looks easy and obstacle-free isn’t realistic. Heading towards obstacles instead of avoiding them is a more challenging course, but a more direct route and likely the only realistic path.

What Rachel Simmons suggests is even more demanding, though. More than indicating that I accept the challenges of obstacles in my path, she advises embracing obstacles in my daughters’ paths. While nobody wants to see their kids suffer, it’s healthier and more practical to realize that setbacks are the path.

Aside from the unrealistic expectation of a trouble-free life, it’s essential to realize how vital overcoming setbacks is to your happiness.

The more obstacles you calmly work through and overcome, the more resilience you’ll have. The more resilience you have, the more capable you’ll be of overcoming more significant and frequent future setbacks.

How The Setback is Your Spiritual Path

There is also a spiritual way to view Simmons’ advice. It’s similar to this quote from Thich Nhat Hanh.

“There is no way to happiness; happiness is the way. There is no way to peace; peace is the way. There is no way to enlightenment; enlightenment is the way.”

– Thich Nhat Hanh

Buddhist teacher Thich Nhat Hanh offers similar advice. Not only is a route fraught with difficulty a more realistic path, but accepting the suffering is a more peaceful path. One of the Four Noble Truths of Buddhism is that life is full of suffering.

As Prince Westley says in The Princess Bride, “Life is pain, Highness.

In the case of my daughter’s ballet pursuit, I have a few challenges for myself:

  • Let her suffer from the setbacks.
  • Let her know she has my support as she works to overcome them, then congratulate her on her perseverance when she passes the challenge.
  • Encourage her to enjoy the daily work and practice of ballet.
  • Help her to be proud of the skills she hones, the strength she builds, the flexibility she attains, and the resilience she fortifies.
  • Help her realize the shows are fun and the accomplishments of important roles are things to be proud of, but that the endeavor is its own reward.

Other Areas to Let the Setbacks Be Your Path

My daughter ended up leaving ballet during the pandemic. Now she’s on a challenging academic path in a school with an extremely rigorous curriculum. She has that along with not only getting into college but finding as many scholarships and grants as she can.
Her parents don’t have any money for her college.

I say the same about other things.

  • Fishing is its own reward, not the fish.
  • Music is its own reward, not the ending.
  • Love is its own reward, not what you get from it.

Try to find work that is its own reward rather than letting happiness depend on what you might get due to the job.

Don’t make happiness a goal, result, or destination. Rather than relying on the destination to be happiness, let the journey be happiness.

Question: What is a setback you experience that ended up making you stronger and happier?

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