How I Turn Setbacks into Comebacks
How I Turn Setbacks into Comebacks

When you quit your job to travel full time but severely injure yourself two months into your journey, it’s a one-way ticket down the rabbit hole.

You take this huge risk to experience the highs of life, and then life decides to smack you in the face.

In case you didn’t already know, that’s what happened to me. 

And it was crushing.

When these types of things happen in life, it’s natural to find yourself in a negative head space followed by some serious depression. 

I mean, I went from traveling the world, meeting incredible people daily, experiencing these once in a lifetime moments, to barely being able to walk, flying back to the states to live at home with my mom, and undergoing a serious surgery that put me in recovery for months. 

I went from being wildly independent and chasing my dreams to becoming extremely dependent on my mother to help me accomplish the smallest of tasks. 

Talk about a 180. 

When I first heard the news I had torn my ACL being an idiot on my birthday in Thailand, I was heartbroken.

I shed a single tear in my Vietnamese MRI room (no seriously, I did) and contemplated how tough and long my recovery for the next 6-9 months was going to be.

It was hard to wrap my head around: I wasn’t going to be able to do normal things again until I underwent surgery and lots of physical therapy.

I had just spent the last two months partying with amazing people in Thailand. 

I wasn’t ready to accept where my life had to go next. 

At this point I was limp-walking (and receiving help with my luggage everywhere I went from tons of kind people), so I decided to spend one more month overseas before returning home.

turning setbacks into comebacks

During that last month I had to turn down job opportunities at two wonderful hostels and sell music festival tickets I had bought for a future trip to Budapest. 

Leaving behind this travel life that I had spent so long dreaming of was a huge low.

I gave myself a few days to mourn and soak in this monumental loss.

And then I gave myself a few more days to come to terms with what the rest of my year was going to look like back at home.

Every major life shift deserves this process. 

But after a week of fully processing this looming change, my mindset changed too

I was no longer going to beat myself up over my injury or allow myself to feel down because of the things I was no longer going to do this year

I chose to focus on all the things I could do with my new downtime at home. 

Because that's all you can do.

Be proactive.

But to really make the most of this free time, I had to take a good look at myself.

What did I want to do next? What makes me most happy? Where do I want to be once I’m healed? In 5 years? What kind of lifestyle do I want to live? What goals do I have?

I took a real introspective look. I wrote down my short and long-term goals and made a plan. 

I realized three things:

  1. My top focus had to be my health.
  2. I wanted to work overseas with travelers again.
  3. I was going to need a job at home before I could get a job overseas.

The entire reason for going home was because of my knee, so making it stronger than ever before was my number one priority.

And for the first time in forever I was going to be in one place.

I had spent years flying from place to place and was constantly on the go.

I was never able to have a real health routine.

And that was something I really wanted.

I looked at my setback as a positive thing.

I finally had the time and resources to make my health a top priority.

I wanted to spend the upcoming months meditating, stretching, doing my physical therapy, eating right, and cutting back on drinking.

My second priority after taking care of my health was to figure out what I wanted to do once I was healthy.

I realized I really wanted to work overseas with backpackers again.

I had just gotten a taste of what it was like working at a hostel in Thailand, and nothing beats the feeling of helping young adults have an epic time on their holidays.

I wasn’t willing to give that life up.

But I was going to be home for a while until I was healthy enough to travel again.

I would need to get some sort of job in between so that I had some cash coming in.

I knew how easy and lucrative a good serving job could be, so I decided once I was back on my feet and cleared by my doctor that I was going to get one.

I figured I could save as much money as possible while also providing my knee with more exercise and stamina.

But considering my injury and new goals, I didn’t want a normal restaurant job that was typically followed by after work drinks.

That environment wouldn’t be good for someone focused on their health.

So I had my eye on a busy diner in town that serves delicious breakfast. 

I figured it would be perfect.

No one would be dying to grab drinks after work at 2 PM, right?

The idea was to start waking up early, work until the afternoon, hopefully leave with lots of money in hand, and lots of time to focus on my health goals.

But before I was able to start working towards any of this, I had to recover from surgery.

turning setbacks into combacks

I had two weeks of immobility and six weeks of very minimal activity.

And let me tell you, two months of not doing absolute shit can either make or break the wandering mind.

So, I chose to keep busy the best that I could.

I read a lot. Focused on my goals. Updated my resumes and made a list of travel companies I’d love to work for. Worked out in some form almost every day. Applied for serving jobs. Started mediating and visualizing the life that I wanted. 

Basically, I was mentally focused on what I wanted. And when the time was right, I took the physical steps to make shit happen.

A few weeks after my surgery I noticed that a travel company I was interested in working for was hiring tour guides (a friend of mine had actually worked for them).

I thought, “How perfect! Maybe I can work my ass off at home and save some money and then fly back overseas and be a tour guide! What a dream!”

I decided to apply although I wasn’t readily available for work.

I was surprised when they reached back a few days later for an interview.

I told them about my recent surgery and that I wasn’t going to be available for work for months.

But they insisted they’d keep me on file and reach out around the time I was able to work.

I kept diligent in my day to day progress and mentally envisioned getting the jobs I wanted.

However, I didn’t put all my eggs in one basket.

Even though the diner and this tour company were exactly what I wanted, I wasn’t prepared to let everything ride on these exact jobs working out.

I applied for many different serving positions at many different restaurants.

I sent resumes to multiple tour companies.

I committed to concert tickets that were months away.

I started taking courses to learn how to sell travel in the future.

I even auditioned for The Real World – still sad this never happened, but probably for the best that didn’t pan out.

Basically, I made sure my happiness wasn’t dependent on any one thing happening for me.

I kept living my life and making sure I was giving myself options.

Luckily for me, once I was cleared to work on my feet I snagged the job I had wanted at the diner.

I was working six days a week, close to my house, great money, and out of work by 2 PM most days.

I was working out 4-5 days a week, eating healthy, and practicing yoga and meditation daily.

I found myself living the life I had envisioned for my recovery and continued believing in my future.

About six months later once I felt I was healthy enough to travel, I emailed the travel company again hoping for an interview.

Unfortunately, they had no availabilities.

I was pretty bummed, but I kept on focusing on my goals and my next move.

I had saved some money, and on a whim, decided to book myself a spontaneous trip to Iceland that was a week away.

I was still going to focus on my happiness and travel goals regardless of what life threw at me.

The day after I booked my Iceland trip, I received an email from the same company wanting to set up an interview for an immediate opening as a tour guide in Vietnam.

The DAY after I booked my trip…The universe can be a funny little asshole like that.

The interview went great, but they were looking for someone now.

I told them about my Iceland trip, but if it meant me getting the job or not, I’d forgo my trip and jump on a plane to Vietnam. 

Two days later I was offered the job.

I was told to go enjoy myself in Iceland but to get to Vietnam as soon as I could. 

I could have let my fuck up / injury overseas lead me down a dark path, because it’s natural to want to beat yourself up over something like that. 

(After all, it was my own fault I was injured and put myself in that position)

But instead I chose to turn my circumstances into a positive and a time for growth. 

I had a vision for myself and somehow managed to get the exact serving job and travel job that I wanted.

I’m the healthiest I’ve ever been and I’m back out in the world to pick up where I left off.

(It’s funny how the place I discovered I’d be ending my travels a year ago is the place I returned to start them again)

I’m writing this as proof that you don’t have to let your screw ups define you.

Use them to propel you to your next destination.

Set new goals. Visualize your success and the life you want.

Take the actual steps to get the things you want, while not putting all your eggs in one basket.

Learn your lessons (and REALLY learn them) and just move forward.

Focusing on the bad or doing anything less than being proactive is such a disservice to yourself.

We’re all capable of creating the life we want if we just have the courage to do so.

For now, I’ll be here in Vietnam living out my dream job.

I’ll be showing backpackers an amazing time overseas while just trying not to hurt myself. 

So, what’s your next move?


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