Amy Shoenthal: Author of The Setback Cycle

Episode 508

In this episode, Amy Shoenthal, Author of the book The Setback Cycle, shares her insights on setbacks and how they can lead to personal and professional growth. Amy explains how setbacks often become defining moments for successful individuals and explores the neuroscience behind learning from these setbacks. She also shares what we can learn from how successful people handle setbacks differently by paying attention to the signs, not ignoring discomfort, and allowing for rewiring in their brains. Plus, we learn how to use tools and frameworks that can help you navigate through these setbacks. You don’t want to miss this inspiring episode. Now on the #TheKaraGoldinShow.

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Kara Goldin 0:00
I am unwilling to give up that I will start over from scratch as many times as it takes to get where I want to be I want to be, you just want to make sure you will get knocked down. But just make sure you don’t get knocked down knocked out. So your only choice should be go focus on what you can control control control. Hi, everyone and welcome to the Kara Goldin show. Join me each week for inspiring conversations with some of the world’s greatest leaders. We’ll talk with founders, entrepreneurs, CEOs, and really some of the most interesting people of our time. Can’t wait to get started. Let’s go. Let’s go. Hi, everyone. And welcome back to the Kara Goldin Show. Today we are joined by Amy show and ball who is the author of the new book The setback cycle, a compelling book that explores the transformative power of setbacks in personal and professional growth. And Amy is just a super badass, incredible executive with a background in journalism and a keen eye for the resilience of the human spirit. And she has captured this essence of overcoming challenges through super inspiring examples and narratives in this book. So I got an advanced copy of the setback cycle, which comes out in on March 18. I believe so. But you can get it in preorder right now. And she’s also the founder of an incredible collective that I want her to talk about called the visionaries collective. So welcome, Amy.

Amy Shoenthal 1:45
Thank you so much. And that was an incredible intro. Thank you. Absolutely.

Kara Goldin 1:50
Absolutely. Well, congrats on the book. I’m super excited for you. And I know it’s going to be a huge success. As I mentioned to you, you and I have been talking about this for a while and I was so excited to get the advanced copy of the setback cycle. Can you give us a brief overview of why did you decide to write this now,

Amy Shoenthal 2:12
I have been interviewing founders and leaders and people like yourself who have had some level of business success for the past, I don’t know, 20 years. And in almost every telling, I just kept noticing that the thing that people took the most pride in was when they lifted themselves up and emerged from some sort of setback. And usually it was that very thing that became their defining moment that that sent them on the path to create whatever they created that was getting all the awards was getting all the attention. And I just wondered, you know, why does this keep happening? And where is the playbook so that I can understand how to work through my next setback. And I did lots of research, and I read lots and lots of business books and certain, you know, folks touched on setbacks here and there. But I didn’t really see it explored as a concept that playbook I wanted did not exist. So I wrote it. It

Kara Goldin 3:15
is so so good. And you have so many examples which we’re going to get into but the common thread and how successful people handle setbacks differently than others. I’d love to kind of hear your perspective on that. Well,

Amy Shoenthal 3:28
I did interview a neuroscientist as part of my research into understanding why people seem to emerge from setbacks. And that’s what sets them on, you know, their path towards creative rebirth or resilience. And it turns out that our brains are actually hardwired to learn more from setbacks than successes. And so I think the people who work through them more, I guess, productively, for lack of a better word are the people who pay attention to the signs, who don’t ignore the discomfort, who allow for that, you know, rewiring to happen in their brains because we learn more from the dopamine dips versus the dopamine hits, when things are going well. We’re like, okay, great, let’s just keep doing things the way we’re doing them, but when things aren’t going well, as you know, that’s when you really have to pivot and adapt and come up with really creative solutions to problems.

Kara Goldin 4:29
Yeah, definitely. Could Have you had any personal setbacks yourself. I mean, you’ve been an incredible executive sometimes, you know, I think about when you throw yourself into the den, right, you’re it’s inevitable that you’re gonna have some along the way. It’s, you know, some major learnings that I’ve had for sure, but I’d love to, for you to kind of share your own in that light.

Amy Shoenthal 4:57
I think every human Bing has encountered setbacks. And one of the most ironic ones that happened to me along this journey was. So I as most most authors are writing their book while also working at a full time job, or in some cases running their own businesses. I have worked in marketing agencies for my entire career for like 18 years. And so I was at a full time job while I was writing this book. I handed in the manuscript on June 6 2023. It was the final version, I was so excited to just take a break, and folk put more of my energy into that full time job. And less than 48 hours after handing in the manuscript for the setback cycle, which covers career setbacks, what do you think happened? I was laid off.

Kara Goldin 5:50
So crazy,

Amy Shoenthal 5:51
I was like, Wow, I did not expect to be living the setback cycle the year that I wrote it, but here we are. And at least I have all of the tools and a framework here at my disposal to understand how to work through this moment. And, of course, there’s so many people right now that are going through layoffs and career pivots or, you know, midlife reinvention and things like that. So I certainly wasn’t alone. But when you experience that, even if you’re as prepared as possible, and I mean, I am the setback expert, I was as prepared as a person could be for this moment. It’s still stung, it still was such a gut punch. I mean, that’s your income, your stability, your supporting your family, like it doesn’t matter how prepared you are, it will still not be great.

Kara Goldin 6:43
Yeah, absolutely. So when you were looking at kind of the framework and the strategies for overcoming challenges, are there any strategies that you find that a lot of people overlook along the way that they think like, you know, woe is me, this is terrible. And, you know, is there some strategy that you think a lot of people do overlook that that you saw, really is helpful?

Amy Shoenthal 7:12
Well, I think one of the most surprising things I found in my research was how many people ignore the fact that they’re in a setback, or don’t even realize that at all. And that’s why the first phase of this four phase framework is establish, right, you wouldn’t think that you need to establish that you’re in a setback, because, you know, on the flip side, so many are very obvious, you know, you’re laid off your, you know, your relationship and something like that is a very obvious setback, but so many more of them are so much less obvious, a lot of people will drift along, convince themselves that something is fine that other people have it worse. And one of the most common things people do is willfully walk into a setback. And that’s why that was one of the most surprising things. What people do, though, to answer your question, how do they overcome it? How do they finally acknowledge that they’re in it and actually come out of it, you have to do the work, you have to not ignore the feelings of discomfort. And that can manifest as like a very physical feeling of stress and tightness, and like shifting in your seat, kind of, if you’re frequently feeling something like that, you know, it might be a sign that you’re in a setback, I have a whole chapter on how to complete the stress response. And so like stress is a very clear sign that you’re in a setback. I mean, how many people do you know who stayed in jobs too long, or certain relationships too long, and then you, you break up or you leave the job? And your friends all say, Oh, finally, and you’re like, we knew I should do this? Or maybe you were that person, but like, everyone knows this example?

Kara Goldin 8:56
Yeah, it’s so so true. So you’ve mentioned the four steps. Do you want to go over those? I mean, obviously, or I should say you suggested the first one. So recognizing that you’re in it. What are the other components to that overall four part? Strategy, I guess, for dealing with any type of setback?

Amy Shoenthal 9:19
Yeah, the setback cycle is comprised of four phases. I call them the four E’s. So number one is establish, again, acknowledging that you’re in a setback and saying, Okay, this is a moment and I’m gonna have to work figure out what to do to work through it. The second phase is embrace once you acknowledge it, how do you collect the information? How do you embrace what’s happening? This is a very difficult phase because it forces you to embrace the discomfort and as a society we’ve been kind of trained to avoid failure and ignore discomfort and so this kind of goes against your instincts a little bit, but this is where we collect the information. This is the precursor to that adaptation to that resilience that we so badly want to build. Phase three is explore, explore is the most fun phase because it’s not super committal, yet you haven’t chosen what path you’re taking. But you get to kind of dabble in a lot of different options rely on your community, explore, you know what you’re good at what you’re enjoying what you’re motivated by. And that’s what’s gonna get you to complete this setback cycle in Phase four, which is emerge.

Kara Goldin 10:31
Can you share any examples of some of the different stories that you have in the book, you talk a few different ones about resilience? There’s some excellent ones, but I’m curious what would be one of your favorites?

Amy Shoenthal 10:44
I do not have a favorite. I cannot pick a favorite child. Okay. Okay. I’m happy to share a story. There were, there were so many because I was writing this between like 2021 22 and 23. There were a lot of setback stories that really centered on how founders and leaders emerged from the pandemic. And one of those stories, was a mutual friend of ours. Her name is Kate luzio, she runs luminary in New York City. It’s actually global now. But there’s a space in New York City that people love. And she had just opened this co working space. In Midtown. In 2019. She had just opened a restaurant on top of the co working space, like really just expanding and everything was going so well. She was welcoming women, and male allies from all, you know, seasons of their careers, executives, founders, and everyone in between. And we know what happened at the beginning of 2020, everything was forced to shut down. And she had just put all of her resources and investments in she’d hired a staff into this co working space. And we all kind of know what happened to that industry at the beginning of 2020. But Kate is no stranger to step back. Like she left a banking career to start luminary. And so she was not going to just say she wasn’t going to give up too easily. So she, she didn’t even have digital in her business plan. But overnight, her and her team worked tirelessly to just flip everything to digital, take all the events they were supposed to have in person and put them online. And she just stayed true to what she you know, set out to do, which was create a space and a community and a professional education and networking platform for women in all seasons of their career. That’s what she did just digitally. And what did people need most in that time they needed community, we were also isolated. And so it turned out this vision she had for her space was more of an in person business. But when it flipped to online, it turned out that like staying true to her mission actually allowed her to succeed. And they when the world reopens, I mean luminary is thriving. Once again, we’re actually having our lunch party there and a few weeks on. And so it’s just it’s such an example of someone who just did not veer from their original mission, but adapted to what society and what her community needed in that moment. And since then, she’s actually because of the state of co working spaces across the country, she actually went on a luminary live, you know, tour, and she’s partnering with all across the country to help them, you know, revitalize their operations and engage the community around them so that people not just in New York can have access to a space and community and, you know, networking and resources and all kinds of things.

Kara Goldin 13:42
Did you find any differences in gender? How people deal with resilience? Or was that something that you looked at? Or was it more focused on, you know, just in general, humans, trying to, or really showcasing how they’ve gotten through things?

Amy Shoenthal 14:04
I did not do any specific study on how different genders you know, adapt to setbacks. However, I will say that, anecdotally, it does seem that the more marginalized you are, you know, whatever that means, whatever, more marginalized communities develop more resilience, because they have to encounter more setbacks. It’s just how the world works. It’s not fair. It’s not great. But the creativity and ingenuity is stronger, the more marginalized your community is, right? The more privilege you have, the less adaptable you need to be. And so of course, you kind of see that in the stories that are in the book, how the more marginalized you are, the better you are at adapting to setbacks, because you’re familiar with going through the cycle. Yeah,

Kara Goldin 14:55
as I say, the more setbacks you have, the more X Wouldn’t you become? Yeah,

Speaker 1 15:03
it’s definitely become adaptable. Yeah.

Kara Goldin 15:06
And I think you become that much more inspiring to write to others, because to your whole point of the book, it’s like, that’s the most memorable thing that you remember. And people, how did they get through those times when you just really weren’t sure they were going to be able to? And I think that’s just such a great, you know, such a great message to have in a book. What’s another example? I mean, obviously, you talk about Kate and the pandemic, I, I love that example, too. Because, like, there were so many of us dealing with running a business during the pandemic, and we just didn’t have the blueprint for how to do it. It was kind of like other times. For me, it was a little bit like 2009, but not really, I mean, there were aspects of it that were similar. But I also think that there’s other times when you’re dealing, you know, with setbacks that aren’t really related to something where everybody is dealing with it just like you like. And it’s it’s hard because you start to look around at other people. Why me you asked yourself that. Any other examples of that where you felt like somebody really power through?

Amy Shoenthal 16:21
Well, to answer your first question, I think some people you know, what is a setback to one person is not necessarily a setback to another like getting fired, getting laid off is usually a setback. But for me, it was actually a greenlight to go start my own business and do the thing I had always been a little bit curious about doing so. One person setback is not necessarily going to be defined that way by another person. And the store another story that I think illustrates this. So well is that of Reshma Saujani. She’s the founder of Girls Who Code and then she also created an organization called Moms first. So she actually created a lot of people don’t know this, but she actually created Girls Who Code because in 2009, she ran for Congress, and she lost. And she lost big time. And she called she calls, I think, the first line of my book at a spectacular public failure. And it was on that campaign trail that she noticed the gender disparity in especially middle grade in high school, where girls were dropping out of computer science and STEM classes. And she created an organization to address that which has now taught, I believe, it’s over half a million teenage girls how to code. And that organization would not have existed had Russia not lost her election. And because she went through that setback, of course, we go back to the pandemic, but when all the parents were at home, trying to figure out remote learning, you know, people were trying to balance remote learning for school aged kids with their own full time jobs, and the government wasn’t really doing anything to address it. And she kept waiting for a solution and waiting for someone to talk about it. And then she realized while the economy is really built on the free labor of parents, usually mothers, and that got her all riled up. And rush massage, Johnny does not just let things go, like she takes action. And so she created the Marshall Plan for moms, which was modeled after like a post world war two economic recovery plan. And she put things in there that were so bold, and so and she knew we’d be met with absolute scrutiny, the cheating care, she’s someone has to start this. And it’s going to be me, because no one else is doing it. And look what she’s done since that, you know, I think she’s been advocating for legislation at the local and federal level, and they’ve had some wins. So it’s pretty incredible if you if you look at what mom’s versus been able to accomplish in the past few years.

Kara Goldin 18:58
Yeah, Russia is just such a great example of that. She’s amazing, for sure. So in writing the setback cycle, what was the most surprising discovery you’ve made about human resilience?

Amy Shoenthal 19:13
Well, the most surprising thing to me was how common it was for people to not recognize when they were in a setback. Hmm. And that’s why phase one is establish, and there are so many nuances to this I really, I really had to dive into like the concept of positive psychology, which is kind of what led to what we know now as toxic positivity and how in like the 80s and 90s Everyone wanted to just like, ignore sadness, ignore failure, ignore negative emotions. I think we’re definitely seeing like, a shift in that trend now, but it was really, you know, it was really this moment. that set us on this, Hey, don’t tell anyone if you’re struggling, don’t tell anyone about your failure. And then a lot of the, you know, I write mostly for Forbes and a lot of the business stories of successful entrepreneurs. Fast forward to the happy ending, and get right to the success story. And what I started doing, which is what led me to really writing the book was I started really exploring the messy middle with people. And we did that with your story. When I wrote about you, you know, we really, like what did you have to figure out on your own? Like, why was this hard for you? Because it was, it is hard for everyone. And that’s what’s not talked about enough. And too many people think there’s just sort of like a straight path to success. And not enough people realize that even the most successful people that they might admire so much, and put on a pedestal, what they had to endure, or what obstacles they had to overcome to get to where they are. And it all really again, it just it really always goes back to a setback. And it doesn’t always get defined as like a trauma or a mistake, because we all know about post traumatic growth or learning from your mistakes. But a setback is its own thing. And it encompasses all of these things. And it really, that to me was like the universal experience, that everyone comes out of their setbacks if they really work through the cycle. And a lot of people really need to focus more on understanding when they’re in one. Yeah,

Kara Goldin 21:33
no, definitely. So how, how do you hope the setback cycle will change the conversation around failure and setbacks? I mean, I think that just having the conversation, right, people do still want to hide exactly what happened, right. And I think that that is something that we can all learn from. So I definitely think that more people should be talking about it, I don’t really think that there’s as much of a place for it. I see some people talking, for example, on LinkedIn about, you know, different experiences that they’ve had in the past. But there definitely is not enough of that happening. And I think that oftentimes, there’s not enough outlet. So I loved the fact that you took the opportunity to write about it. But I wish that there were more examples and more opportunities for people to talk about these challenges that they went through.

Amy Shoenthal 22:36
Yeah, they, you know, everyone who has read the book so far, and you are among that small group of people now, because the book has not come out yet. But everyone who I’ve spoken to who has read, it says that they are now seeing their own life experiences through a different lens. And they have, you know, whether they encountered a setback years ago, and now they’re seeing it with the advantage of hindsight, or maybe they realize that they’re working through one right now. I just want this book to give people a better understanding of their own experiences, offer them a different lens with which to see them through, and also offer the, you know, tools to understand what more might be possible for them, despite what they are going through. Or even when you’re at your look, I don’t want to glorify failure, I don’t want to glorify pain. But these setbacks that we experience are inevitable. And at least we now know that when we are in the thick of it, that if we work through it, and now we have the playbook to work through it, you can emerge with a sense of what more might be possible for you and how much you are capable of.

Kara Goldin 23:48
Yeah, definitely. And your the framework that you provide, I think is is super, super great. So I think even if you’re not currently in a setback, I think being able to have it. This guide, as you know, a great worksheet, in some ways for you to work through is just super, super incredible. So last point, so someone currently facing a significant setback. What would you suggest besides buying the book and going through the four points, what would you say to somebody who may be a friend, maybe somebody who’s going through a challenging time?

Amy Shoenthal 24:26
Number one, I would say to them, acknowledge that this stinks, that this is not fun, and even if you were so prepared for this, or you expected it, it doesn’t change the fact that today is no good and maybe all you need to do right now is just sit on the couch with a pint of ice cream. That’s okay. Have that moment. Embrace it. Feel the feelings acknowledge the discomfort, but then tomorrow, start to climb your way out. Start to explore what else you might want to do. Don’t wallow for too long. But pick up the clues in that just confirm. And again, like when one path disappears, you have no idea what other options may lay out in front of you, because you’re gonna go explore things that you never would have thought to explore. Had you continued on that other path. And maybe there’s something better here. And so, yeah, I mean, just explore the possibilities and see what other opportunities you might be able to find, given the situation that you’re in. I

Kara Goldin 25:31
love it. Excellent advice. So Amy Schoenthal, author of The setback cycle. Thank you so much. We’ll have all the info in the show notes. But thanks for coming on. And congrats again, on an excellent books. So good. Thank

Amy Shoenthal 25:45
you so much, Kara. This was a wonderful interview, and I appreciate it. Thanks

Kara Goldin 25:50
again for listening to the Kara Goldin show. If you would, please give us a review. And feel free to share this podcast with others who would benefit and of course, feel free to subscribe so you don’t miss a single episode of our podcast. Just a reminder that I can be found on all platforms at Kara Goldin. I would love to hear from you too, so feel free to DM me. And if you want to hear more about my journey, I hope you will have a listen or pick up a copy of my Wall Street Journal, best selling book undaunted, where I share more about my journey including founding and building hint. We are here every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Thanks for listening and goodbye for now.