Crushed by a Major Setback? Here’s What to Do Now.

It felt like I’d been kicked in the teeth. I stared down into my phone screen, reading an icy email that announced a story I had spent two years duly devoted to was now on its death bed. One of my editors had shot it in its heart—reducing its existence to a paragraph of a lackluster goodbye. Those words brought a level of devastation I had no way of preparing myself for.

For so long, I felt possessed to see the project through. I stole late hours while on a romantic trip in the mountains with my husband, burrowed in corners of coffee shops to cram in moments of work in between other meetings, pored over countless studies on the subject matter, and interviewed 43 people across multiple time zones. I channelled every shred of excellence toward fulfilling my end of the agreement. My editor guaranteed me, over and over again, that my efforts were going to be worth my while. I trusted they would—giddy within my diligence and fantasizing the possibilities of it all.

But there I was: choking on the news that my hard work had been discarded for a reason that had nothing to do with me. Worst of all, people I entrusted with my idea pulled the wool over my eyes while in the process of its annihilation. I felt cheated, manipulated, undermined, and undervalued. Also seething with anger.

Though it seemed in that moment I was the only person who had ever been sliced by a blade of such glaring disrespect, I wasn’t at all. None of us are strangers to being struck by a major setback, but when you’re in that space, it feels like you’re the only one crawling those grounds. It feels like you’ll never find your way to the other side of it. The truth is that you not only can, but you must.

“When you are no longer willing to be puppeteered by another’s approval, you no longer have anyone rationing out your power.”

So, whether that big, shining career opportunity vanished into the blackness, or your precious relationship combusted without warning, ahead are five indisputable reasons to pick yourself up and summon your power in the wake of any setback. You may even lock arms with a level of confidence and unstoppability you never dared to dance with before.

#1 This setback does not define who you are.

Just as you are not defined by a single birthday, you are not defined by a single event. You are not characterized by another person’s willingness to validate your worth, or align with your ideas, or honor your investment. Melt into this knowing, allowing it to make you fiery and dangerous. Because if you are no longer willing to be puppeteered by another person’s approval, you no longer have anyone dictating your voice or rationing out your power. You alone get to decide how and when those energy sources will be charged.

#2 You’ve got resilience in your DNA.

If you explored your lineage, whether by examining the lives of your parents or your grandparents, or shuffling back multiple generations to uncover a riveting tale of survival that rocks you, there exists evidence of someone in your ancestry who persisted through the unimaginable. Maybe they survived a war, or a famine, or extreme injustice, or a disastrous act of God. The takeaway? Don’t let a bad day or week cause you to forget the strength embedded within your legendary roots. Call upon your fighting spirit. This situation will never be bigger than you.

#3 You are the boss of your self-belief.

If you’ve been allowing some higher-up at your workplace, or a dangling carrot of a career opportunity, or some alluring love interest to act as the CEO of your self-belief, it’s time you fire them. You will never again give another person so much authority over the way you perceive yourself. It is no one’s responsibility to whisk into every disheartening situation and handcuff you with confidence; that’s a job only you can fulfill. It’s also the most important one you will ever have.

#4 Every person you admire has fallen fast and hard on their face.

Every celebrity you emulate, every entrepreneur you look to for inspiration, and every Fortune 500 company you roll out your hard-earned dollars to has been—at least once— slammed with a setback so severe they were convinced their quest was over. They may have wallowed in the bloodbath of a plan that was once alive with so much promise, staring down at a shell of an idea without a pulse.

I adore designer Vera Wang’s story of career resuscitation. Long before she crafted and sold millions of high-end wedding gowns, she was a figure skater who failed to make the cut for the U.S. Olympic team. In the years that followed, she graduated from college and ventured into the world of editorial, accepting employment at Vogue magazine. She gave the publication 17 years of her passion and skills before being rejected for its editor-in-chief position. As disheartened as she may have felt at the time, those slamming doors only served to reroute her toward an endeavor that launched a multi-million dollar fashion empire. According to Forbes, Wang’s estimated net worth was $420 million in 2015. That’s a hilariously superior figure to what she might have earned as Vogue’s editor-in-chief.

Within every success story, there exists a tale about a thing that was so furiously wanted once upon a time, but never had. While it’s OK to grant yourself a space to grieve what once was and will be no more, you must not stay there. Your most lucrative opportunity could be whistling right around the corner.

#5 Meet your new mantra: “Every rejection is rerouting me in a more powerful direction.”

Sometimes the most commemorative chapters of our lives are only possible because of the disappointing ones that came before it. There is always a magic lesson behind every closed curtain, and a rebirth yawning and stretching out its arms and legs in the midst of every ending.

After I recovered from the shock of editors murdering my story, I saw the opportunity within its death. The truth was that theirs had never been the ideal media platform to champion it to the public. I was hinging everything on a single media source that was all wrong for it, and they gifted me with the ability to explore options better suited to its concept. Truly, I learned, there is freedom in every unraveling—even when unforeseen and unwanted.

So, congratulations, my friend. Welcome to your Independence Day.

Lacey Johnson

Madam Wonder: Founding Editor

Lacey Johnson is an award-winning editor, essayist and journalist who earned her degree from Belmont University in 2011. She has worked with a broad range of celebrities and entrepreneurs — including the likes of Betsey Johnson, Deepak Chopra, Shark Tank's Daymond John and Olympic Gold Medalist Shawn Johnson. She is editor-in-chief for The Connect magazine, and her work can be read in a variety of print and digital media sources including Cosmopolitan, Marie Claire, Woman’s Day, Mirabella, PopSugar, and others. With a deep intrigue for human beings, and fiery passion for smacking her readers in the face with the truth, she writes and reports boldly about topics that challenge the status quo — in the realms of love and relationships, popular culture, travel, spirituality, women’s issues and the nuances of a fulfilling life. She is also deep in the process of co-authoring her first book, which is a gutsy exploration of the illusions of fame, power and success, told through narratives involving some of the people the world most idolizes.

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