12 Ways to Reframe Setbacks as Opportunities

Speaking at the convocation of the United Negro College Fund in Indianapolis in 1959, John F. Kennedy said, “When written in Chinese, the word ‘crisis’ is composed of two characters – one represents danger, and one represents opportunity.”

From a purely linguistic perspective, Kennedy was wrong about what those particular Chinese characters actually represent.

JFK wasn’t the first to make this mistake, and many others have made it since. The trope has been repeated by journalists, bloggers, motivational speakers, and politicians for decades.

Managing the Motivation Gap between Aspirations and Expectations

We all have aspirations. We may aim high, low, or somewhere in between, but we all have some hope of achieving something. Our desires may not always be well formed or clearly stated goals, but we have them.

We also have expectations regarding our ability to achieve our desires. Expectations, like aspirations, range from low to high.

Advice about how high we should set our expectations varies, too.

“High expectations,” said Walmart founder Sam Walton, “are the key to everything.”

Use Your Beginner’s Mind to Open Your Prepared Mind

In 1973, 27-year-old Vernon Hill decided to start a bank. He launched a single, nine-employee branch on a highway in southern New Jersey. Vernon didn’t call it a “bank” or a “branch,” though. He called it a “store.”

Although he had worked afternoons at a bank while an undergrad at Penn’s Wharton School, Hill’s professional experience was primarily in real estate and fast-food retail. He scouted and developed sites for chains such as McDonald’s, CVS, and Jiffy Lube, and had an ownership stake in dozens of Burger King restaurants.

As a relatively inexperienced newcomer to the world of banking, though, Hill was able to cast aside many of the preconceptions people had about how banking ought to be done.

Don’t Let Myers-Briggs Limit Your Opportunities

When she was 14, a girl in Chautauqua County, New York began keeping the company of a 21-year-old local hoodlum named Johnny. He was the son of a reputed gangster, indulged in liquor and gambling, and sometimes carried a gun. He also had a steady income and access to several cars, which no doubt impressed his young romantic interest.

Partly to encourage her interest in show business, but probably mostly to separate her from Johnny, the girl’s mother sent her to a prestigious school of theatre and dance 400 miles away in Manhattan.

Unlike the school’s star pupil of the time, Bette Davis, the girl did not thrive. For most of her time at the school she felt frightened, intimidated, and humiliated.

When Winners Quit and Quitters Prosper

Back when Warren Buffett’s net worth was a mere $10,000, he sank 20 percent of it into a Sinclair service station in Omaha. Unfortunately, it was across the street from a well-established Texaco station with very loyal customers, and Buffett’s station simply could not compete.

Bill Gates’ and Paul Allen’s first entrepreneurial collaboration was a machine that automated vehicle traffic data collection. It worked, and they attracted some paying municipal clients. Soon, though, states began freely providing their traffic data to local governments, obliterating the now-famous duo’s business model.

Mark Cuban once had the idea that since powdered milk was cheaper by the gallon than regular milk – and, in his opinion, tasted just as good – it would be a booming business and his big break. It wasn’t.

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