Sharmin Banu coaching in front of an audience at an HR Conference
Career satisfaction,  Success Strategy

How an Embarrassing Setback Helped Me Become Better

When we hear advice like  “turn setbacks into growth experiences,” we often dismiss it as cliché or unrealistic for ourselves. However, a few years ago, I was in an embarrassing situation that ultimately helped me improve my skills significantly. I share the story below, hoping it will inspire my readers.

The Setback Story

It was 2019 when I was in an advance coaching class with experienced coaches across the globe. We coached each other before the class and later got their feedback. When my turn came to be the coach, something rattled me, and I was gripped by a sense of paralysis. Despite attempts to steady my nerves with deep breaths, my efforts proved futile. As the session progressed, the situation worsened. As the class ended, I left with a feeling of utter incompetence and embarrassment. 

Acknowledgment With Humility and Self-Compassion

I suffered the entire day. The following morning, I decided to do something about it as it was too strong to go away by itself. So, I surrendered and came clean to my class. I wrote them an email, openly sharing my internal struggle during the session, and asked for their understanding as I vowed to use it as a learning opportunity. Their supportive response helped me lessen the burden. Additionally, my family headed out on a nature vacation the following day, which helped shift my focus away from the painful rumination.

Reflection, Commitment, and Action

Later, as I followed through with my commitment, I decided to look for opportunities to improve my ability to stay calm under pressure.

Coincidentally, within a few weeks, I got an invite to demonstrate coaching in front of an audience at a local HR conference. Recognizing it as a perfect opportunity to be under pressure, I immediately accepted it. As the days neared, I felt the same fear creep up. I self-coached myself to practice my presence, including remembering watching masterful coaches, including my mentor Janet Harvey, conducting such sessions in front of others. 

And then that day came. The announcer asked for a volunteer from the audience. A young woman raised her hand. They gave me 10 minutes to coach her, who wanted to improve her confidence. Despite the nervous energy swirling in my stomach, I focused on the client and helped her manage her anxiety. That ten-minute session ended with a smile and a positive verbal acknowledgment from the coachee. I felt good. 

Since that pivotal moment, I have continued to embark on similar challenges with increasing ease and mastery, each encounter pushing me to raise my bar every time. 

The Overall Learning

As I look back, here is the process I applied to turn this embarrassing setback into a learning and growth exercise.

  1. Acknowledging and processing the aftermath of setbacks with humility and self-compassion.
  2. Reflecting on the underlying causes of setbacks with a rational mindset.
  3. Developing actionable plans to enhance skills.
  4. Celebrating the progress and growth along the journey.

Just last week, during another advance class, we were tasked with coaching in front of our teacher and peers. While some of my colleagues felt apprehensive, I drew upon this experience to approach the session with a learner’s mind and a playful attitude. It allowed me to fully engage in the opportunity and receive commendations from my classmates.

I hope my story invoked some reflection in you. What setback has led to a transformative learning experience for you? How are you carrying the learning forward?

The Feature photo is from that HR Conference in Seattle where I coached in front of an audience.  Than you Mikaela Kiner and Reverb for the opportunity.

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