top of page

What's your Setback?

Couple of days ago, an interviewing candidate asked, “What are some of the setbacks you’ve had in your career?”. While mindset is important, it's just in the mind. Personally, I think it's more important to know how badly you want to overcome this setback, what are the goals for each milestone in your limited time frame and actions steps to take. Then commit and focus on taking those steps.

The first big setback I had was when I joined the Sales & Analytics program. Back then, the training program spanned across 2 months and you had to successfully pass 10 exams.

I failed a grand total of 4 exams. And...that’s not even the best part.

I failed the Equity exam, so I had to do a re-take exam. Then I failed the re-take. So I sat in the re-take of the re-take… which I flunked again. My team leader had a face palm moment.

It wasn’t that I was sleeping in training. I just couldn’t follow because I didn’t have any background in finance. I was struggling to understand terminology. I didn’t feel I was qualified for the role at all.

My manager sat down with me to understand my challenges. It was a very serious matter. If I didn't understand finance basics, how would I understand our products and how our clients actually use them?

Clearly, I was not performing. It didn't feel good.

Commitment is what transforms a promise into a reality. Commitment is the stuff character is made of; the power to change the face of things. It is the daily triumph of integrity over skepticism - Abraham Lincoln

What I did next was to focus on improving my knowledge within a short time frame.

I put my head down to work. At long last, I passed the exam.

People often talk about handling setbacks with a resilient mindset. For me, handling setbacks just means the following steps:

1. Do I want this?

It's pointless to think about "what if I fail?" Why would you even meddle with your own mind with unnecessary thoughts? Create capacity in your head to focus on the task.

Instead, I asked myself "Do I want this?"

If yes, then commit.

If you commit, then focus on delivering.

2. What do I need to do next?

The ultimate goal for me was to pass the exam and there were 3 weeks to achieve it. I listed out all the topics I had to learn and batched them into weekly targets.

Then I just focused on hitting the weekly milestone.

Don't just passively read. Do some critical thinking. Get a friend to test you and probe you with questions.

Sometimes, I'd hear young professionals say, “I’ll work hard to improve”.

I can't help but a myriad of questions form in my head...

  • Work hard at what exactly?

  • Anyone can improve over time…but would you mean by 5 weeks or 5 years?

  • How would you measure that you've improved?

  • If you failed to improve, why?

  • What will you do differently?

3. Hone Your Craft for Consistency

Passing the exam was the first obstacle I had to overcome. It was just the first step. The next step is to commit to being consistent.

I continued putting my head down to work on my knowledge. At first, I was lagging behind my cohort, but I managed to attend Equity Specialist with everyone else. After Specialist Training ended, I continued to work on my knowledge on top of my responsibilities in the day.

Again, I outlined all the topics and batched them into weekly targets. For example, by week 5, know the suite of portfolio products inside out - along with all calculation methodologies, settings, commonly asked questions, features & benefits etc. I'd ask myself, why are clients asking this? Why do they care about that? How do they use this product?

The momentum and curiosity paid off. The moment I resolved most of the questions myself, with a clean 100% quality score, I knew that I was self sufficient.

I continued with my weekly self studying journey. I progressed on to become an Equity Advanced Specialist to take the most difficult Equity questions. And... I pressed on and started taking the most difficult Equity Derivatives questions, and I became a go-to person in that space.


This is one of my stories on overcoming a setback. There are plenty of setbacks in one's lifetime.

If you are having a difficult time now, maybe you could ask yourself these questions:

  • Is this what I want? If yes, commit

  • What can I do next? Focus on what you can control

bottom of page