Expect Criticism, Problems, and Failures



“Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.” — Winston Churchill

One of the best ways to deal with setbacks is to expect them.

When you expect them, you take their power away.

In doing so, you empower yourself.  You can choose your response, instead of just react. 

The key is to predetermine the right ways to deal with them, so you can respond more effectively.

Hope for the Best, Plan for the Worst

The saying that stuck with me for years is, “Hope for the best, plan for the worst.”  It keeps me optimistic, but also realistic in terms of expectations, time frames, effort, and potential challenges. 

Otherwise, it would be like working out without expecting resistance, but it’s the resistance that makes me stronger.  In a way, it’s the adversity that makes success sweeter.

In the book, Mentored by a Millionaire: Master Strategies of Super Achievers, Steven K. Scott shows us how adversity is something to expect and respond to in more effective ways.

No Worthwhile Success is Every Achieved without Adversity

Great success has a price, and adversity is part of the path. 

Scott writes:

“I normally fly around 100,000 miles a year, so I meet a lot of people on airplanes.  It’s not uncommon to hear tales of woe about their jobs, their careers, their businesses, or even their marriages.  Most have seemed surprised or even shocked by the fact that in the pursuit of success in their projects, goals, or dreams, they encountered harsh criticism, severe adversity, or even failure.  The truth is, no worthwhile success in any endeavor is ever achieved without encountering adversity.”

Every Worthwhile Dream Lies on Top of a Rugged Mountain

Edison expected problems and failures as part of his journey.  This helped him better respond to criticism, adversity, and failure. 

Scott writes:

“Since every worthwhile dream lies on top of a rugged mountain, there is no easy way to get to it.  Edison not only understand this fact — he counted on it! 

He considered criticism, adversity, and failure as necessary to the achievement of extraordinary success, just as exhaling is necessary to breathing. 

Because Edison expected criticism, he was always prepared for it, and responded to it rather than reacting to it.  Because Edison expected problems and failures, he was always ready for them and never panicked by them.”

The Wrong Ways to Deal with Criticism and Failure

Many of the default ways of dealing with criticism and failure are ineffective. 

Scott writes:

“Here are just a few of the wrong ways most of us deal with criticism and failure.  First, we may become angry, defensive, discouraged, or depressed.  We may put, withdraw, or deny: ‘It wasn’t my fault.  I really didn’t make that big of a mistake.’  We make excuses.  We rationalize our failures.  Some personality types respond to failure by attacking, blaming others, or even blaming circumstances.  Some people become overly introspective and frustrated and view themselves as failures.”

The Right Ways to Deal with Failures or Strikeouts

There are three keys to dealing with failures … own it, analyze it, and change your approach. 

Scott writes:

“So what are the right ways for dealing with our failures or strikeouts?  Edison saw three critical components.  First, you must accept full responsibility for the strikeout or for your part in it.  Second, analyze your strikeout to determine its causes.  Third, come back up to the plate with a new approach, determined not to make the same mistakes in your future efforts.”

Look for the lessons and learn your way forward.

Photo by Hotfield.


  1. Well said! I love this post and can sooooooo relate because I have made these mistakes and continue to make them but I am getting better. Thanks for the reminder JD.

  2. “Hope for the best. Plan for the worst.” A lawyer’s motto! I was a contract negotiator and drafter for years and then became a professor of contracts and contract drafting. This was our creed. Interesting, isn’t it, how famous people in business and science always seem to have such a positive attitude about failure and setbacks?

  3. G’day J.D,
    I’m with you here. Though I say ‘Plan for the best however expect some setbacks’. As you have said or alluded to, the strength to overcome any setbacks is the key. Thank you for this. Stay strong, turn up the volume &
    be good to yourself

  4. Hey J.D.! Life is a cycle of ups and downs…balancing ourselves through it and letting go of things that has us spinning in circles can certainly help with our peace of mind. 😉

  5. @ Shobana — It’s definitely a learning process. I think the humps get smaller when we know we can make the climb, or in some cases, jump clear over them, or avoid them alltogether. Other times, it’s great to keep in mind it’s a longer climb, but the view from the top will be great.

    @ Galen — I can imagine you got very skilled at seeing ahead to the potential pitfalls and traps. I think I learned a lot of mine from hindsight in project management. The hindsight then becomes the foresight 😉

    @ David — I’m a fan of the power of persistence. So much of persistence is how we see it, how we frame it, and how we build our mental toughness.

    @ Kenya — One of my favorite expressions along like lines is, “Make like a duck, and let it roll off your back.”

  6. Hi JD — I really liked the photo in this post — I feel most secure in the projects I do, and the strongest in the face of criticism, when I can summon the kind of warrior spirit that the men in the picture are expressing.

  7. This is great advice. Too often I think that if I’m on the “right” track, I’ll experience little resistance. If I hit a snag, something must be “wrong.” But expecting setbacks actually sets me up for success. I can be proactive instead of reactive.

  8. J. D.

    This is such practical and grounded advice. I appreciated this point in particular: “…it’s the resistance that makes me stronger. In a way, it’s the adversity that makes success sweeter.” Thank you!

    It seems we’re always dreaming of the time when life will be simple and perfect. But the simplicity and perfection is in accepting the magical display of whatever rises on your path in each and every moment without the labels of “good” and “bad.

  9. “Hope for the best, plan for the worst” is my favorite. With my kids, with my peers, with myself. I think my mom firs told me that long ago.

  10. that’s so true JD
    i have been through horrible days,
    life is full of ups and downs and you gotta be prepared for the worst all the time

  11. @ Chris — I wanted to show something fun + strong, and this pic cracked me up.

    A little strength from within really does go a long way.

    @ Angie — Well put … life comes with snags. “Expecting the unexpected” has really helped me deal with the finer snags in life.

    @ Sandra — Whenever I catch myself dreaming of better days off in the future, I remind myself of the “be-do-have” approach.

    When I had a static view of life, I had very ineffective strategies … it was all about stock piling for the great future ahead. Now, with a dynamic view of life, it’s about growing and responding along an unfolding path.

    @ Alik — I was trying to remember where I first heard it, and, like you, I think it was my Mom.

    @ Farouk — It’s amazing sometimes just how much perspective plays a role. Being prepared can really take the sting out of the setbacks that happen.

  12. After years of hating the stuff I expect and even welcome criticism now because it contains so much information, feedback, and ideas I’ve not considered. It’s like free market research, your life and plans the market. The more you get the more insight you have at your disposal. Then you can fine tune and mine gold at the same time. Who needs ‘yes’ men? They tell you what you want not what you need!

  13. @ John — I like your frame of “free market research.” It’s a powerful thing when we embrace the feedback for growth and improvement.

  14. Thanks for sharing this, JD. I especially appreciate the Edison insights, he is one my personal heroes. When we decide to truly express and create we can be sure that howling voices will arise to resist us (not the least of which is our very own howling negative self-talk!) It is wise to expect opposition. We must find gentle ways to correct our mistakes and handle criticism. Refined action gives us leverage with our dreams and aspirations.

  15. Hi JD,

    Excellent lessons by Steven! In life, whatever we do, we are going to encounter challenges and obstacles. By accepting full responsibility for what happens, then we can begin to move forward and make new plans and persist to achieve our goals. Thanks for sharing my friend

  16. @ Rob — Edison is the man, and I really like how Edison redefined genius and added the effort part to it. “Refined action” is a great way to whittle onwards, and upwards.

    @ Dia — There is something powerful about ownership. If nothing else, it sets the stage for taking action, and it’s our actions that pave and shape the way forward.

  17. Hi J.D.,

    I always anticipate that things will often not go as planned. It’s not that I expect the worse, I just expect to have to be flexible because I can’t by any means foretell the outcomes of every variable because I don’t have control of them.

    This book: Mentored by a Millionaire sounds like one that I need to read. Also sounds like the story of my life for the past number of months.

    Great stuff!

    Best to you!

  18. Hey JD,
    I’ve never really thought about “expecting” my problems because I think I associate that with being negative. But the way that you put it makes sense to me.

    I think that the way I think of it, is that instead of “expecting” my problems, I accept them when they show up. And that is what makes dealing with them so much easier.

  19. I Love Wayne Dyer’s “It is none of my business what other people think about me” It helps me to remember to be the best person I can and what others think is just their option…right or wrong.

  20. @ Jk — Welcoming the challenges with open arms and staying flexible is a great mindset.

    Every time I get into trouble, it’s because I expected things to go faster, simpler, or better than they do, and I didn’t allocate enough time to deal with the it properly.

    @ Marlee — I know what you mean. I’ve learned to change my strategy over time.

    My optimism used to get in the way because I would expect things to go as planned. The problem with this is I didn’t include buffer for the surprises. Now when surprises show up, I have the time and energy for them.

    @ Chuck — I really like that. It’s a great reminder to focus on what you control and let the rest go.

  21. Thanks JD
    I’m the kind who fight setbacks as if they are the main agenda,thanks for giving me a way out,own it,analyze and change the approach.

  22. @ sm — Another strategy I should have pointed out is pairing up. Lately, I’ve got a few hurdles where pairing up is helping me blast through barriers at light speed.

Comments are closed.