Screwed It Up? Hit P.A.U.S.E to Spark your Comeback

“Well, I F*%#ed that one up!”

That’s what I said to myself as I got into my car a few weeks ago. I had just finished a workshop with a new client. It was a disaster. One of those hot-mess-out-of-body situations – literally and figuratively.

After the workshop had ended, I called my wife, and she tried to reassure me, “I bet they couldn’t tell. Don’t be so hard on yourself.  You are always your harshest critic.”

Ok, at least the last part is true. The first part? Well, not so much. They could tell. My request to take a break was a clear giveaway.

It wasn’t my best moment; that much is clear. It wasn’t nerves that threw off my game; rather it was because I wasn’t feeling well, physically or mentally.

But the workshop participants didn’t know why I was off.

I wanted the whole thing to be over with as quickly as possible. It was mortifying. 

We have all seen blogs, memes, or quotes on the internet about setbacks, failures, and mistakes. Heck, I have shared plenty myself. 


“Mistakes are just learning opportunities with the wrong label.”


We can accept that mistakes are learning opportunities until they happen to us. Then they feel like big black holes that suck your confidence into oblivion. Mistakes can be powerful triggers that spark your negative self-talk. Your inner critic loves moments like these so it can start harassing you with statements, such as:


“Why did you blow that so badly? 


“Everyone is probably talking about it!”


“Will I lose the business?”


This is a short list of the thoughts that banged around inside my head the moment I got into my car after the workshop.

Yes, even executive coaches have moments of doubt. But experience has taught me that asking negative questions only yields negative answers. I knew it was time to SHIFT.

Here’s the thing: We all have situations when we perform less than our best. If you haven’t yet, you will eventually join the club. Whether you share your situation with others is another topic.  

But, instead of going to a dark place with your perceived career-limiting move, you can use it as a catalyst that takes you the next level.  

So, what do you do? To start, hit the P.A.U.S.E. button to spark your comeback.

1. PBR: No, this is not a Pabst Blue Ribbon reference. I’m talking about taking a moment to Pause, Breathe, and Reflect. Find time to accept what happened and begin understanding why it did.

2. AcceptanceAcceptance helps you let go of the situation. After all, fretting about it will not change the outcome. Acceptance also promotes accountability. It helps you move forward. Which is important for your colleagues, stakeholders, and clients, but it’s critical for your success.   

3. Understand:  Understand why you didn’t perform at your best?  What contributed to the situation? Did you have a spiritual, mental, emotional, physical, social, or environmental misalignment? These are six keys to performance.

Once you know your gap(s), understand what you can gain from it and what steps you can take to avoid it in the future.  

If you find yourself listening to your negative voices, give them a moment to vent, then shift to questions that can help you move forward. Ask yourself, “What’s in my control? How can I grow from this experience?”

4. Strike a Pose: This is in the spirit of Amy Cuddy, not Madonna. Even with acceptance and understanding, your inner critic can resurface before your next big event. To fight your negative self-talk, experiment with positive body language and affirmations. 

5. Engage: Look for opportunities to get back into the game as quickly as possible. We tend to remember our most negative, emotional moments more vividly than our best ones. It’s part of our hard wiring. We can achieve a better balance by creating more positive moments. Think of it as your “atta-girl” or “atta-boy” file.

For me, I had gone into the workshop run down. I was off physically. But more importantly, I was burdened by the stress of caring for my older parents from a distance. As a result, I wasn’t prepared. Because my content wasn't new, I thought, "I got this. I can do this despite the circumstances." I was wrong.

Then I discovered a common thread.

Several years ago, I lost my train of thought during a corporate presentation to my sales force. A family member had passed away two days before, and that weighed heavily on my mind. I was distracted and didn’t prepare in my normal manner. Because my content was familiar, I thought, “I got this. I can do this despite the circumstances.” Sound familiar?

In both cases, I just put my head down and moved forward with the presentations because I believed that it was my only option.  However, in both cases, I had choices that I couldn’t clearly see because of my stress.

Luckily, I had another client workshop engagement a few days later. I leveraged the steps above and delivered a powerful workshop on storytelling. 

Regardless of your position in life, you will experience a setback or two. It’s inevitable.

Your response is everything, and it’s always a choice. But before you choose, hit P.A.U.S.E.

My professional setbacks have been challenging, but they have made me a better leader and executive coach.  But too frequently, we hide our lessons from others to avoid being judged. 

As a leader, take a moment to be vulnerable with your team. Share a story of one of your  toughest professional moments and how you responded. If you like, you can share in the comments section below. 

I will be sharing some of my other “Brene´ Brown” moments this week via Anchor. I will post them on my LinkedIn and Facebook.  I invite you to join the conversation. 

p.s. I’m lucky to have amazing clients. In this particular case, my client called the next morning. He was empathic and reaffirmed his belief in my coaching expertise. It’s always great when a story has a happy ending.

I will be releasing my upcoming book, SHIFT – Moving from Good Enough to your BEST, in early 2017. It highlights my NDE cycling accident, recovery, and lessons learned (from successes to setbacks).