Women tell Women

How to turn setbacks into lessons?

— Ani Gjika

Whether I’m working on a writing or translation project, or whether I’m teaching, I’m bound to experience setbacks from time to time. But there’s no action without setbacks, no plot without conflict. So when in the moment of rejection, or when a particular teaching lesson doesn’t go as planned and I feel small or like I’ll never be able to reach my goal, I remember to think of it as an opportunity instead to learn something I hadn’t prepared for. 

When my work was being rejected, I learned patience and that my words have their own journey, too. I don’t get to decide where they go. This was liberating because it directed me back to what matters—I needed to keep writing. Rejections, setbacks, more often than not, are an opportunity to meet my words again, ask them what they want. I do the same in class if the lesson plan isn’t working. I turn to my students and ask for their feedback. In doing this, I learn more from my work process than from any goal I set out to accomplish. 

Through setbacks I have learned that work isn’t just about making a plan and following it. We need to stay curious beyond the blueprint—revise, restart, reframe. 

Ani Gjika –
Teacher & Writer

Albanian-born writer Ani Gjika is the author and literary translator of eight books and chapbooks of poetry, among them Bread on Running Waters, a finalist for the 2011 Anthony Hecht Poetry Prize. Her translations from the Albanian have received an English PEN Award and were shortlisted for the International Griffin Poetry Prize, PEN America Award, and Best Translated Book Award. She is a graduate of Boston University’s MFA program where she was a 2011 Robert Pinsky Global fellow, and GrubStreet’s Memoir Incubator program, where she was a 2019 Pauline Scheer Fellow. Her most recent book An Unruled Body won the 2021 New Immigrant Writing Prize.