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Turning Setbacks into Stepping Stones with 4/6 Emotional Projector Amy Shoenthal

Episode 237

Today we welcome an amazing guest, Amy Schoenthal, journalist, marketing consultant, and the author of “The Setback Cycle.” Amy brings to the table her rich experience and insights on how setbacks, often perceived as obstacles, can actually be the catalysts for groundbreaking personal and professional growth.

In this enlightening discussion, Amy shares her journey and the defining moments that led to her groundbreaking work. We explore her interviews with a diverse array of leaders and entrepreneurs, uncovering the universal nature of setbacks and how they often lay the foundation for remarkable achievements. From her encounters with figures like Senator Mazie Hirono and Tory Burch to her personal experiences, Amy illustrates how setbacks are not just challenges to overcome but opportunities for creative rebirth and resilience building.

But this episode isn’t just about stories of success; it’s a deep dive into the psychology and neuroscience behind setbacks. Amy explains how these moments rewire our brains, fostering creativity and agility. We also touch upon the human design aspect, discussing how understanding your personal design can guide you in navigating through setbacks more effectively. For entrepreneurs and anyone facing challenges, this episode offers a new perspective on setbacks, shifting the narrative from hindrance to opportunity.

Don’t miss this transformative conversation that might just change your view on setbacks and help you harness them as powerful tools for growth.


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  Welcome to Unshakeable with Human Design, the show dedicated to helping entrepreneurs use human design to shift from hustle to flow without sacrificing results. Come here to become an unshakeable human and build an unshakeable business according to your human design. I’m your host, Nicole Laino.

 Hello and welcome to Unshakeable with Human Design, everybody. I’m your host, Nicole Laino, and I am here today with a really, really amazing guest. She and I met a few months ago at an event, and I was blown away by her presentation. We got to connect personally, before and after, and she’s also from New York, the tri state area, just like me, so we bonded over those things, and I loved her perspective.

I loved the power that she brought to that room, and I wanted to bring it here to this show. So I want to introduce you guys to Amy Schoenthal. She’s a journalist, a marketing consultant, and the author of The Setback Cycle, which is her new book about how today’s prominent founders and leaders overcome obstacles to find success.

What an important topic. She’s also a contributor to Forbes Women, Harvard Business Review, and other publications. She shines the spotlight on those who have been historically underestimated, yet are doing the work to solve society’s biggest problems. Her work has included interviews with a wide range of leaders such as Senator Mazie Hirono, Tory Burch, Marie Kondo, Norma Kamali, and so many more.

And she boasts a two decade marketing career working with some of the world’s largest brands, from Procter Gamble to Google. She now works with founders corporations, non profits, and small businesses to shape their brand narratives and captivate audiences. Amy, welcome to the show. Thank you for being here.

Thank you for having me. What an intro. My goodness.

Well, I’m so excited to have you here. Like I said, we met at Rebecca Cafiero’s event, Weekend at the Pitch Club, back in San Diego, in October now. And I loved your speech. You talked about setbacks. And I just wanted you to first of all, tell everybody about the book that you have coming out because they should go and pre order it.

I’ve already pre ordered mine. I cannot wait to get my copy. And your talk at the event was around one of the setbacks, one of the people that you interviewed there. I believe it was Stacy London that you talked about. And it was so powerful. This idea of setbacks and how they can actually propel you forward.

Rather than knock you down, even if they’re temporarily knocking you down, they can be the catalyst for this next level of growth. How did you come about that and what was the moment where you’re like, this is a book?

The realization that setbacks are powerful came up in every single interview I did over the past like six, seven years. And I just kept seeing it in every person I talked to. And I talked to some really big name people and I talked to some emerging entrepreneurs who were just getting started and raising their seed round.

And it felt like in almost every telling of their story, their career journey, whatever it was that led them to create the thing that I was interviewing them about, it was all born from some sort of setback, a micro setback or an earth shattering one. And it was beyond just, learn from your mistakes, or post traumatic growth, because those are concepts we all understand.

But, there was something in the middle. Not every setback was a mistake, and not every setback was a trauma. And so, I felt like there was just something nebulous and like the gray space that no one had really talked about. And I did a deep dive for years into all the business psychology books. Into the work of psychologists like Carol Dweck, Adam Grant, Angela Duckworth, who wrote Grit.

And all of these people, they definitely touch on it, for sure. But no one had really explored the concept of setbacks as it’s own idea. And once I started doing that and I started interviewing people and I started doing all this research, I realized that there kind of was a cycle. And once I started outlining the cycle, I made sure that I got people with PhDs and neuroscientists, a credible group to validate this theory that I was working on.

And so they all weighed in and that’s how The Setback Cycle was created and the cycle and the framework and the phases is all told through the stories of leaders. Some who you’ve heard of, some who you have not heard of, and you will when you read the book. And it just illustrates the cycle that they all go through.

Sometimes multiple times. Sometimes there’s like many setbacks within one setback to illustrate their journey. But I wanted to highlight this as a concept because it is a universal experience. There’s a spectrum of setbacks, of course, but having a setback is a universal experience and I want people to just better understand that so they can identify it when they go through it.

And I think that that’s what we’re all working toward is how can I be present in this moment enough to know that every moment is somehow working for me in some way, shape, or form if I just take my eye off of and my energy and attention off of how I thought it should go. If I don’t get too caught up in, I had this perfectly laid out plan and everything didn’t go exactly as I had planned, then you can be present enough to see the opportunity that’s existing in this moment, regardless of the fact that it didn’t work out the way that you had thought it would.

Yeah, I think a lot of it is just identifying the moment you’re in and recognizing it for what it is. Because even if it’s painful, and you realize, I am in a setback, I just got fired from my job after 20 years, right?

Some really big, earth shattering moment is happening. It doesn’t remove the pain and the loss or the grief or whatever it is that you’re feeling in the moment. It still stinks. But, if you can identify it for what it is, you can at least understand that, okay, there’s a cycle, I will work through it, I will get to the other side.

Not ready to do the work yet, right now I just have to deal with it. And then I’ll get there. So that’s, I think, a part of the cycle that people could benefit from understanding.

Right, I think that there are sayings out there, and you gotta feel it to heal it. And in order to use the setback, you’ve actually gotta be in it. You’ve gotta actually feel what you’re feeling, I would think. You have to feel what you’re feeling, you have to be present in the moment to say, I’m gonna honor the fact that this sucks.

And that this is not what I had planned, and I have to grieve this, but I’m also going to be looking for the light in this because there’s light in everything. If I’m looking hard enough for it, if I’m really just open to receiving that and not so stuck in the fact that this isn’t what I planned and this feels so bad and now my life is over. Just because this thing is over, it doesn’t mean that it isn’t the start of something else or the potential for something else to come through.

You mentioned that you spoke with experts, PhDs, neuroscientists, to back up the theory, which it’s always good to take something that you think is theory and be like, can I base this in some fact? Can I back this up somehow? Can you tell us in that research and in bringing those people in, what did you find about setbacks and about neuroscience in setbacks?

So I have a couple of answers for this. My favorite was when people poked holes in the things that I was doing. And an executive coach, her name is Shoshanna Hecht. I interviewed her at the very beginning when I was just starting to explore this. And I said, I think there’s something brilliant that happens when people go through setbacks.

And her first reaction was, this better not be some everything happens for a reason kind of BS. And so, I really appreciated that because it really led me to make sure as I explored it further, that I didn’t position pain as this glorified thing, or tell people to look forward to your next setback, like that’s not realistic.

So I really appreciated the grounding there. And it is helpful to not just surround yourself with yes people. Because you need to poke holes and make sure that this makes sense. And so that was nice. And in terms of the neuroscience, I mean, you can do a whole podcast on that, I’m sure, but one of the things that happens is our brains are always seeking, when’s the next dopamine hit?

How am I going to get that feeling again? And so our brains are always working towards what’s going to be a rewarding experience, and moving away from what they think is going to be a negative experience. Because of that, setbacks, which are generally a negative experience, actually rewire our brains in a much stronger way than positive experiences do.

Because when things are going well, You’re not really thinking about how you want to change them. You’re not necessarily applying your inner creativity or problem solving or agility because you’re not trying to change anything. And so people are generally hardwired to learn more from setbacks than successes because of that reward seeking center of our brain.

And I can go into a lot of the details. The neuroscientist that I interviewed, her name is Chantel Pratt. She has a great book, The Neuroscience of You, if you wanna really do a deep dive, go into her book. But I talk to her quite a bit and I quote her quite a bit throughout the book. So we have a setback related neuroscience information peppered throughout.

So is the idea that the setback is actually the catalyst that’s putting your brain into this different state that’s seeking out and looking for, is it a solution really that we’re looking for? Is it just looking for, get me out of the pain and into the pleasure?

What will get me there? I’m curious if there’s thoughts about like the process that’s happening inside of the brain.

Not necessarily, and climbing out of a setback, is not necessarily all about seeking pleasure. I think it’s more of a creative rebirth. It gets you to a new idea, maybe it’s a solution. Maybe it’s rooted in pleasure, but when you climb out of a setback, you get to your emerge phase.

And that is when you come up with something that you are excited to work towards because you think it will be rewarding and give purpose to your life and give meaning to yourself and others and that’s what’s gonna help you do the work to climb out of it, or lead to your next thing, lead to what I call your creative rebirth.

And that’s really the moment that you’re working towards throughout the whole cycle.

I’m curious what you came across, the people that you’ve interviewed and who’ve gone through these setbacks. Is there a common thread that they look at setbacks differently? Where of course it’s like this sucks, but do they already have it in their experience where they’re just like, this is a moment and it’s the creative rebirth, maybe, that I need. Or there’s something in this for me, where they’re approaching it differently from the start?

People who have gone through many setbacks can recognize it better than people who have not. That’s just building resilience. That’s just understanding the moment that you’re in because you can recognize something more easily if you’ve been through it before. So if you’re a savvy setback cycler, you know the moment and you know that you have the tools to get through it because you’ve been through it before.

So one of the women that I interviewed, Reshma Saujani, She’s the founder of Girls Who Code, then she went on to create the Marshall Plan for Moms that now became Moms First. And she’s advocating for paid leave at the federal level and she’s on a mission to get our government to support mothers in the workforce, and out of the workforce in bigger ways than we’ve ever considered before. Because mothers are powering our economy.

And the reason she had the, I don’t want to say grit, but the will to do this, is because she created Girls Who Code in the early 2010s, I forget exactly which year. But she created Girls Who Code because she ran for office and lost so badly. Like, she lost 80 percent of the vote, and it was a widely publicized election.

It was a local New York election, but it it got national attention because she was trying to unseat the incumbent who had been around for many years. And she lost spectacularly. And if she hadn’t gone through that loss, it was going on the campaign trail and visiting schools and seeing the disparity in education between preteen girls and boys and who were learning how to code.

And there was this big drop off. When it came to girls learning STEM and she created Girls Who Code from that experience. And they taught probably over half a million girls how to code in the years since. And there are now STEM programs that are focused on closing that gender gap in STEM throughout so many education systems in our country. And Reshma was sort of at the forefront of that and it all happened because of a setback.

So then in the pandemic, when she’s trying to do remote learning with her kids and all the other parents she’s talking to are trying to figure out how to maintain their own jobs while dealing with kids at home. She’s starting to realize, our economy has no safety net. The safety net is the unpaid labor of women, of mothers, of parents, and when nobody seemed to be doing anything about it, everyone was talking about it, but no one was doing anything about it, she was like, you know what?

I’m just gonna do something about it. And she knew it would be met with criticism. She knew she would get backlash. She knew it would be an absolute uphill battle. But she was like, I’ve been through it. I can do it again and again and again. And she has not stopped. She has persisted and she’s seen major, major gains at the federal level in terms of her fight and advocating for, I don’t want to say paid leave, that’s a big part of it, but it’s just like support for parents. So

She’s changing the way that we view that role. So it’s this big movement that has many pieces I would think that go into when we change the way that we view the role, then all of these things will start to seem like, of course. And it will be easier to pass. It will be easier to get support for these things.

And for those of us who are in that world, it’s amazing that we don’t have these things already. And yet we look at ourselves as a country in maybe some rose colored glasses sort of ways where we have to take a good hard look. And it takes people like that who are willing to have those conversations, hear, know a lot and not let it get them down.

And I come from a corporate background, but then when I left corporate I started a startup. I had a small technology company that made a software. And when I was learning about that world, I mean we call it pivoting, but it’s setbacks. It’s when the thing that you thought you were building becomes something else and you realize you can’t do that.

They prepare you. They’re like, if you haven’t pivoted three times, then you should get ready for them. Be ready for them. Look at it differently when you hit a wall and it will happen. If it doesn’t happen, your idea probably isn’t thought out or tested enough. You will probably have three pivots before you hit your thing, and if you don’t hit your three pivots, then it might just be it died, but then it’s the next idea, it’s the next thing that’ll come to you.

They prepare you for that. That’s the training that you go through, is like, get ready for this to not work. And start thinking now, just start opening your mind and your energy up to that because it’ll take you out. Because it can be soul crushing.

Yeah. If only we were all prepared for that when we entered, I don’t know, college or entered the workforce, right? Because we are not all trained to prepare for the pivot. We’re not, right? We’re told you’re great. You’re talented. Keep going. You can do anything. You can have it all. You can be at all.

Maybe that’s all true, but it’s hard to teach resilience because you have to go through it in order to really understand it. And again, I sit here and I’m researching setbacks and I’m highlighting people’s stories, but in the middle of writing the book, I got laid off from my full time job.

And I could sit here and tell you I am the expert on setbacks and I have a wealth of information about it as a concept. But then when you have to go through it yourself, it’s a whole other level. It’s a whole other level. So yeah, teaching people to prepare for a pivot is great because they will experience it and then they will truly understand it.

Absolutely, and you’re still a human being that’s having that experience and it sucks and you’ve gotta hang out in it. If you pretend like it doesn’t bother you and you try to just push through it, then you’re just bypassing the feelings and they will come up some other way that you have less control over, so I don’t recommend that.

Can you share a few more stories, cause it helps illustrate the point. Some of the stories maybe that you highlighted in the book, or maybe people that you’ve interviewed for Forbes or for one of the other publications that you work for, can you just tell a story or two?

I think it helps people understand, because I think we have this idea that successful people have always been successful. And that they didn’t have setbacks, or they didn’t have setbacks like mine. And the truth is that they had probably worse ones where maybe they didn’t have the same problems, but there’s a lot at stake.

And it is the thing that you would think would take somebody down. So, is there somebody that comes to mind that you’d like to share the story of?

I mean, I have so many. I’m going to share one that’s not in the book because I just published this article. I just interviewed Whitney Wolfe Hurd. She is the founder of Bumble.


And she was the youngest woman to take a company public. She is a self made billionaire. She created Bumble.

Like, people forget. She created Bumble because she was a co founder of Tinder. And had a terrible breakup with her other co founders. And it was very tumultuous. There were a lot of accusations flying back and forth. And she felt like it was a very sexist, toxic environment over at Tinder.

She went on to create a company that was born out of what she didn’t want for women. She wanted women to have control over their own destiny. And she thought, I can make this dating app very simple by just having women make the first move and putting them in control. And that eliminates all this unwanted advances that we don’t want in our lives and we certainly don’t want on a dating app.

And now, everyone you know who is dating or has dated at any point uses Bumble.

And And you kind of forget that origin story. And let’s also not forget like there was a lot going on, I think it was Badoo was the company that had the majority stake in Bumble for a long time and there was some stuff that went down with that company and they had a little bit of a breakup. And so she has gone through many setbacks and as a young woman who founded a dating app, she saw scrutiny like no other.

Every time she failed, it was on a public stage. Every time someone else failed her, it was seen as her failure, and it was on a public stage. And there were investors, and there were financial consequences. And the stakes were very high. Very high. But she came back around every single time, and I talked to her about setbacks and about this concept and she agrees.

She knows that if a setback comes her way, she has all the tools to get through it because she has gone through it so many times. And if you look at every successful founder, I guarantee, I mean, I guess I can’t guarantee, but I assume that most of them have gone through some high stakes setbacks that give them the confidence to know that they can get through the next one.

You and I were talking before we started recording about the Time magazine article, Taylor Swift is Time’s person of the year. It’s not terribly shocking, because you can’t go anywhere without hitting a Taylor message or something.

I’m not mad about it. But that’s pretty much what the interview is about, is about her setbacks. It’s about how she uses them and that she’s like, I’ve figured out that my answer to whatever comes at me, I will never stop it. For her it’s different.

It’s not going to be the same setback that you or I are experiencing necessarily because it’s what people expect of her. It’s this incredible scrutiny that she’s under. And she’s basically like, I just make more art. I take it and I turn it into something, I process it through writing songs, and then I see what happens with them, but that’s my process, not how people react to it.

So if you’re sitting there listening to this and you’re saying, I don’t have the big bumble idea, I don’t have VC capital, I don’t have that, I have this small business, it’s really about what is your way of processing. For me, I’m always looking for the lesson and then I pass that on to other people.

I create new things. I create new stuff. I don’t create songs, I wish I could. It’s not my talent. But I create other tools and I know that if it’s not in it for me, there’s something in it for somebody else.

If I can see past my own pain long enough for it. And if I keep doing what feels good to me, and this is a human design show so I’ll wrap that in there. That as a generator, I’m here to do what feels good to me. And if I follow that impulse rather than, this is what I think will fix this, and if I just follow what I feel really called to do in the moment, it always leads me someplace.

It always leads me to something that at least opens my energy to a new possibility. And that hasn’t failed me. I don’t know what the path looks like. I never will. I can only keep doing the thing that I do and what feels correct to me.

I did want to call out one thing on your human design chart. This is just fun for me because some people I want to do more of a reading on these.

I just pulled your chart up because you were kind enough to give me your information. And I wanted to say, so the conscious sun is everybody’s guiding light. We all have one gate that is our guiding light of the big theme of our life. And yours is gate 32, which I do not expect you to know what that means.

So I’m going to read you just. I’m gonna read you just the like word for word keynoting of it. I’m not interpreting this. So, the instinct to maintain basic and enduring principles even in times of change. And, to me that sounds like the setback, right? It’s called the gate of continuity, and it’s tribal, so it’s about the community.

It’s not singularly focused. It is about sharing with the community, and community can be however you think about it, but I look at yours as this feminine entrepreneurship world. I thought that was fun. Without a doubt whenever I look at something, people are living or speaking their design in some way.

And you’re an emotional projector, so you take in and you reflect back what you get from other people. It’s not so much about what you are doing all the time. It’s you experiencing other people’s energy, you experiencing other things in the world, and then reflecting on that.

Which, as a journalist, that’s what you do. But I thought that was fun. I was like, oh, it’s the setback gate. It is about enduring change, and being able to maintain, during enduring change. So I thought I would throw that out there. That was a fun little tidbit. I’ll also add just for those of you who are listening and wondering what she is.

She’s a 4/6 Emotional Projector. So that’s for all of my human design people. You and I will chat after. I’ll give you the skinny on all of that, what that really means for you. But for those of you who are listening, if you’re a 4/6 emotional projector, you’re seeing someone in action who’s living that design right now.

So tell everybody about this book, where can they get it, when can they get it, and give them the details on The Setback Cycle.

You can pre order it at any retailer, Target, Walmart, Amazon, Barnes Noble, your indie bookstore, bookshop. org. That’s always a favorite if you can support a bookstore that’s local to you, but you can pre order right now. And if you pre order it it will arrive on your doorstep on March 19th on publication day you can be one of the first people to read it and that’s pretty much it.

I have a little microsite that gives you more information about The Setback Cycle. Just the setbackcycle. com. It’s also my personal website. If you want to reach out to me, that’s a good place to stay in touch. I’m dripping out little teasers in my newsletter twice a month. So you can subscribe there.

And same on my Instagram and LinkedIn. I give little hints because I have a lot of information regarding setbacks and I try to use the information I have. I guess this is my emotional projector. I have received a lot of information from some really wonderful people and so I try to re share it with all of you, with the people in my orbit, and through the book, through my articles, through my social posts.

And your articles are really amazing too. You interview some incredible people, which I think is a great kind of intro to the book, because if you like the articles that she writes, I’m sure you would really love the book because you go into even more depth with those stories. But yeah, I find them really inspiring, and I think that the way that you view the potential that we all have to persevere and see the light through the change, is really incredible and something that we all need.

I love your perspective and I’m so grateful that you came on the show to share your story, to share all of these stories and to promote this book because it’s such an important piece and I’m so excited to get it in the hands of more people.

Instagram is @amysho, A M Y S H O. And yeah, I just want people to imagine like what more might be possible for them in any given situation. And so hopefully this does that.

And that’s what this show is for. It’s to help people see what is possible. So, thank you for being here. We will link all of that up in the show notes for you. You do not have to remember all of that, but you should go and pre order that book now because why are you waiting? Why would you wait until after?

Pre order it now. It’ll be on your doorstep and you know what you’re reading this spring. You know what you’re reading in March. I highly recommend it. I’ve already ordered mine. I cannot wait to get my copy. And please go follow Amy on Instagram and all the places. Like I said, we will link all of it up in the show notes for you.

Thank you for being here and thank you listener for making it all the way to the end of this episode with us. We appreciate you. And remember, in order to have an unshakeable business, you must first become an unshakeable human. So thank you for letting us help you on your journey of becoming unshakeable with human design.

We will see you soon.

  If you love this episode and you’re a fan of the show, please show us the love on iTunes, Spotify, or wherever you’re listening to the show and leave us a review. And if you’d like to connect with other entrepreneurs on their human design journey, join our free Facebook community, Human Design for Entrepreneurs.

Go to nicolelaino. me forward slash podcast links to join the group, book a human design reading with me or access our free human design resources. We’ll see you there.

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