How to Turn a Setback into a Comeback

With Dr. Willie JolleyEP 36

These are no doubt uncertain times. Businesses are shuttered, people are scared, and the anxiety level is high. That’s why I’m so excited about this week’s guest—someone I believe can comfort us, encourage us, and guide us through this challenge.

There are motivational speakers, and then there is Dr. Willie Jolley. He’s an award-winning speaker, bestselling author, and media personality who uses his public platform to pursue his mission of empowering and encouraging people to rise above their circumstances and maximize their G-d-given potential. Many know him as the speaker that Ford Motors called on when they were on the brink of bankruptcy; his work helped Ford reject the government bailout and go on to $1 billion in profit.

In our interview, Dr. Willie Jolley tells the story of how he went from becoming a fired singer to reading a motivational book that led him to pursue his passion. He also teaches us timeless principles for how to use setback as a set up for a comeback.

I hope you listen to our conversation and it gives you the strength and encouragement to keep going despite whatever obstacles you face. As always, I would love to hear what you think. Listen and enjoy!


How to Turn a Setback into a Comeback—with Dr. Willie Jolley

Dr. Willie Jolley, thank you so much for joining me on the show.

It’s a privilege, a pleasure, a treat, and a treasure to be able to be on with you and share ideas with your audience wherever they may be around the world.

I’ve heard you live at one conference that you spoke at. It resonated so much with me what you spoke about. We got to schedule this episode. You speak about a topic that’s very dear and very important in the days that we’re now facing with COVID-19. Before we get into what we want to speak about, the topic of a setback as a startup for a comeback, share with our audience a little bit of your personal story. I know you do have a very interesting story that our audience would appreciate.

Thank you so much. I appreciate you. I enjoyed speaking each time I’ve had the opportunity to speak for the group that you are part of. For those who don’t know, I’m Dr. Willie Jolley. I am the host of the Willie Jolley’s Wealthy Ways Show on Sirius XM, which I’m proud to say is now the number one self-help show in the country, as well as the host of the Wakeup and Win with Dr. Willie Jolley daily radio program, syndicated across America. Most people know me for my speaking or my books, particularly my book, A Setback is a Setup for a Comeback.

My story is simple. I was a nightclub singer and a jingle singer who made my living for many years singing some of the jingles you’ve heard on the radio and singing in nightclubs in the Washington, DC area. I built a very big following. I won the awards for best jazz singer and entertainer. One night I went into the nightclub and the club owner said, “I want to talk to you after the night show.” I told the guys in the band that they want to talk. We’ve been selling off for months. We got standing room only audiences, “Finally, we’re going to get our raise.”

I went into his office that night at the end of the show and he said, “You guys are great. We love you, which is why it’s hard for me to tell you what I’ve got to tell you. We’ve decided to make a change. We found something cheaper than a band. We’re trying to get a better return on investment and so we bought a karaoke machine.” I was shocked. I didn’t know what to say. I didn’t know what to do. I was in a crisis moment because all I knew was to be a singer. I went home and I said, “I’ve got to change something in my life or this will keep happening.”

Setup For A Comeback: While your one eye is on what you’re doing and dealing with now, always keep the other eye on your goals, dreams, and purpose.

I took a job with the Washington DC Public School System. In the process, someone had given me a cassette motivational tape. On that tape was a guy named Charlie “Tremendous” Jones who said, “In five years, you’ll be the same person you are now, except for two things, the people you meet who inspire you and the books you read that empower you.” That same person who gave me that cassette motivational tape gave me a book, Think and Grow Rich. I’ve read the book and I listened to that audio over and over again. I started changing my thinking because I didn’t want that crisis moment to have such a negative impact on me as it had that night when I got fired.

While I was trying to figure out what I was going to do, I took a job with the Washington DC Public School System as a drug prevention coordinator. It was during that time I had to start giving speeches to kids about staying away from drugs. I found what I was supposed to be doing. It’s inspiring people using my music and my words, as well as my entertainment background to captivate, compel, and give a life-changing message. From the little kids, teachers would say, “Could you come to my teacher’s group?” Someone in the teacher’s group would say, “Can you come to my church?” Someone in the church would say, “Can you come to my company? I worked for this company, that company, this agency, that agency.” It continued to grow.

Les Brown, the great motivational speaker heard about this speaker who was mixing music, motivation, inspiration, entertainment, and education. He invited me to be on tour with him and Gladys Knight on the Music and Motivation Dream Team Tour. That allowed me to be exposed to corporations and big companies. I thought of doing work with big companies. That allowed me to get a radio show and the radio show got syndicated now on XM. It continued to grow. In 1999, I got a call from Toastmasters International letting me know that I’d been named one of the top five speakers in the world for that year.

A few years later, I was inducted into the Speaker Hall of Fame. A few years later, I was named a legend of the speaking industry. I’ve gone on to speak for major corporations and Fortune 100 companies around the globe. I have numerous best-selling books and national PBS specials all because I had a crisis moment. I learned something from that crisis moment. As we go through this Coronavirus crisis, there are some lessons that I have learned that have worked in my life and the lives of people who read my books. There’s a profound corporate story that in 2006, Ford Motor Company called me. They’re on a brink of bankruptcy.

You mentioned a couple of points that I want to elaborate a little bit for the audience. First of all, you have all the credentials to be on the show based on what you said already. I appreciate it and it’s an honor to have you. You said something so important that touched me as I was listening to what you said. You have that setback, which that alone is a lesson on its own. We need to dissect it and expand on this. Interestingly enough, you started saying as you were starting to speak. You mentioned you found your calling, what is meant for you to do.

That’s so important because we live in a world and God has gifted us one life. Sometimes we are stuck in something and we never even pause to see, is this the best that I could do with my life? Maybe there’s more opportunity, not only financially but also making a change in people around us, our community, our small world, whatever you want to call it. That’s what I’ve heard while you were telling your story. Could you elaborate a little bit on what it means for our audience of finding what they’re good at?

A profound part of getting through challenging moments is that you are focused on several things. One is that you’re focused on what’s going on now. One eye is on what now, what you’re doing now and what you’re dealing with. We are all dealing with the Coronavirus crisis. We’ve got to keep one eye on the problem, but always keep the other eye on your goals, your dreams, your purpose and why you’re here. Because when you’re able to stay focused on the long game while you’re dealing with the short game, that’s how you win. If you’re in a golf tournament and you see the great golfers, they hit a ball and it has a mind of its own. It goes all the way over in a rough or somewhere in the woods.

At that moment, do they try and continue to hit the ball toward the flag through the trees? No, that’s going to become more disastrous. They don’t panic. They don’t fall apart. What they do is they focus, “I’m in this rough now. I’m in the woods. My first goal should be to get it back on the green. Get the ball back in play, then I can go on with my life rather than making a bad problem worse.” That is why during this crisis time, you have to focus on the problem you’re dealing with. One eye there in the immediate, but never forget your purpose, your passion, your big goal, which is to win. That’s what we want to help people do. It’s to win. That is one of the important things that we do at this point.

I want to get through the other big moments in your life, which is something that we could all learn and we want to get into the details, which is that phone call from Ford Motors in 2006.

Ford Motors called in 2006. Ford was on the brink of bankruptcy. They bring in a new CEO named Alan Mulally. He said, “We’ve got to change the culture of this company or we’re going to be out of business. We have to start at the grassroots, at our line workers.” One of their executives said, “There’s this guy who could help us. I was at a conference and he was speaking. I loved his message. I bought his book, A Setback is a Setup for a Comeback. It’s life-changing. I would like to see if we can get him to help us.” They called me. I’ve worked with Ford in 2006. They brought me back in 2007 and 2008.

As you might remember, in 2009, Ford was the only one of the big three automakers to be able to reject a government bailout. They went from losing millions to making billions. I was honored that the Detroit Free Press wrote a big article about Ford’s amazing comeback. They said one of their secret weapons was a guy named Willie Jolley. That day, I got a call from General Motors. Soon thereafter from Walmart, Verizon, Johnson & Johnson, one after another, companies who wanted to empower their people to not let the setbacks stop you, but learn how to turn those setbacks into comebacks.

Let’s dive in a little bit for our audience to take no-nonsense advice from what you spoke to those thousands of employees at Ford and other companies. We all have our setbacks. It’s out of our control. Those are setbacks for our goals and our daily lives, setbacks of what we could and we can’t do. Unfortunately, some of it is the life and death situations of family members or community members. How do we deal with a setback and how do we set it up for a comeback?

One of the things about life is we all have setbacks. It’s an equal opportunity impacting experience. It doesn’t care how old you are, which color you are, what race you are, what your religion is. Everybody has setbacks. Those who understand how to handle the setbacks are those who succeed and win in the long game. How do you do it? First of all, when you have a setback, the first thing you must do is make a commitment that you will not panic. Panic is taken from the Greek word, to choke. When you panic, you choke off the air to your brain and then you cannot make wise decisions.

You cannot make a wise decision in a challenging moment, what you end up doing is making a poor decision. In 1929, there was a stock market crash. People panicked. Some jumped off of bridges, some to guns and committed suicide, not realizing that the market would come back bigger and better than ever. The lesson here is this too shall pass. If we are wise, we do not panic and think our way through this challenge, we will get through this. We will learn lessons for the next one because there’s another one down the road. If you live long enough, you’ll see them. If you’ve been around for many years, you’ve seen the 9/11 crisis. It impacted business. Everything was shut down, but we came back.

We saw 2008, the economic bubble burst and everything was shut down, businesses ceased, but we came back. This Coronavirus crisis has shut down businesses. It has been a health threat. The others were just terroristic or economic. Now, we got a terroristic threat that we can’t see and it’s killing people. As a terrorist, it’s also economic. The stock market has crashed, people lost their jobs, money is tight and on top of that, it gives us great anxiety. I go to sleep every night and I sleep well because I learned these principles. Let me tell you this quote that I love, “Methods are many, principles are few. Methods may change, but principles never do.”

My job is to give your audience principles because methods will change. Principles are hard rock and rock steady, and they work every time. If you throw a rock up, it always comes down because of the principle called gravity. These principles I’m going to share with you and I’m sharing now are rock steady. They always work. Number one, don’t panic. Number two, don’t willingly participate nor commiserate. Don’t participate in the problem. Don’t become part of the problem. Don’t add fuel to the problem. The way to handle that right now is the medical community, the World Health Organization, Dr. Fauci and all the others have given us very clear instructions on how to stay safe and healthy.

Stay away from people, social distancing, don’t be in a large crowd and wash your hands often. That’s what they tell us to do. If you do that, you won’t get sick, hopefully, and you will not become part of the problem. Next is don’t commiserate. Don’t add to the gloom and doom that’s already being propagated all day long, 24/7 on television because it makes you ineffective. Let me tell you why. If I took a sponge and put it in a bucket of water, it would soak up as much water as it could. It would get to a point where it could not take on any more water. It’s completely saturated. Therefore, it is rendered ineffective in taking up water.

Setup For A Comeback: Always pursue excellence, don’t settle for mediocrity, and be the best you can even when you’re doing the little things.

The same is true for us people. We get to a point where we cannot take any more bad news. We get to a point where we are overwhelmed and that’s when we need to stop the bad news coming in. I’m telling everybody in my network, we have thousands and thousands of people on a newsletter list who are responding every day. I send out a short little one-minute message to tell people, “Here’s a message for the day. Limit your television time because you get to a point where you’re ineffective.” I want to offer your audience access to that free newsletter. If you go to, you can sign up for the newsletter. We’ll send you a newsletter with something short, quick, and positive every day. Once a week, I do a newsletter message where I do a video message.

The next one is don’t let your pride poison your prosperity. People have lost their jobs. Income has ceased. All my speeches have been postponed every single one for the next few months. That is my number one way of making money, yet I’m not panicking. I’m not participating. I’m not commiserating because I’m not going to let my pride poison my prosperity. I learned this lesson from one of my mentors. His name was Duke Greene. He was one of the first big IT executives in America. He built a very successful company called IBS. During the late 1960s, early 1970s, he was a big player.

If you might remember back in the 1970s, there was a recession. There was a gas shortage. People were standing in line for gas. Duke had hired the best and the brightest IT experts from Howard University, Harvard University, MIT. He did not want to lose any of these great people. He said, “I’m not going to lay anybody off through this crunching crisis moment. He took his salary, which was a lot of money that he paid himself as CEO and paid his employees. After a while, he had to pay his bills, his mortgage, his bills for personal living. What he did was every day he’d go to the office as the CEO from 8:00 AM to 6:00 PM. From 8:00 PM to 3:00 AM every night, he would drive a trash truck.

He said, “I drove a trash truck to get me through college. I can do it again.” He did that for about a year until the economy got better. Money started flowing again and he could go back to one job. I say that to say some of you might have to do some during this time that might not be your preference. My daughter is an entrepreneur. She has a beauty hair care company. She said, “Everything is shut down. What I did, dad was I listened to your advice. I can cook and people like my food. I went on Facebook. I said, ‘I’m preparing dinners for those who don’t want to cook. Every day I’ll prepare X amount of dinners and you can order it on Facebook. Pay me via cash app. I will have my son drive over to your house, put it on the porch and leave it there for you. I’ll have him text you to say it’s there.’ I’m making money.” I said, “Perfect, that’s exactly what I want people to do.”

You don’t let your pride poison your prosperity. You might have to do something that you’re not used to doing. You’ve might have to do what I’m doing. I’m on Zoom calls every day now. I’ve got clients who are hiring me to talk to their teams via Zoom so that everybody can stay productive. I’ve got people who say, “Can you do some personal coaching?” I usually don’t have time for personal coaching but I say, “I will be happy to.” They reach out to me and I coach them on how to build their business and how to build a life. One lady said, “Are you a life coach?” I said, “No, I’m a get a life coach.” Those are things. Those are the mindset: don’t panic, don’t willingly participate, don’t commiserate, and don’t let your pride poison your prosperity.

The next one, be proactive. Now is the time not to sit back and act like we’re on vacation because our schedule and our life have changed. You told me the first thing, “I came in to do this. I made a trip.” You could have said, “It’s a tough time. I’ll put this off to later.” You said, “Nope. I got up, got dressed, made my way to the office so I could interview with Dr. Willie Jolley so we could get it done.” That’s being proactive. That’s not waiting for things to happen. That’s making things happen. I’m encouraging people don’t wait for your ship to come in, swim out to it. This is the time to act, to take action. This is the time I’m writing new books. I’m working on new programs. I’m working on a lot. I’m busy every day, all day long. I’m talking to people. I’m doing coaching.

I’m doing Zoom calls because I’m being more proactive. I’m reaching out to clients. I’m calling clients and saying, “How can I help?” I’m not asking for money. “How can I help you?” Particularly those in the hospitality industry, my hotel clients. I know that they’re hurting. I’ve called my hotel clients and say, “What can I do to be of help?” Each one has said the same thing, “Thank you for calling, just to hear your voice.” Many of them have had to shut down, had to fire all their people or lay them off. They’re hurting. This is a time when they need my help. This is a time when they need your help, whatever it is you. I’m talking not to our host, but our audience, that you do something that can help people. What can you do? Who can you call? How can you reach out? Be proactive. Don’t wait to be reactive.

It’s something that I shared on LinkedIn Live as well that it’s no downtime. It’s a pause time. How can we use the best way possible of your pause time, which is you still have those hours every single day? When things will start getting back into normal, you won’t be able to do stuff that you have time to do now.

I’m going to give you two more. Don’t panic, don’t willingly participate, don’t commiserate, don’t let your pride poison your prosperity. Remember to keep one eye on the problem while your one eye always looks on the long-term possibility or the end game. Deal with the problem. Focus on getting it back in the green so you can finish the game and win the tournament. Be proactive, then be creative. You’ve all got creative skills. I released a music video. I had never done a music video, but I released it and it has blown up on YouTube.

It’s a song I recorded many years ago that I had not even remembered because I used to be a singer but I recorded this song called We’ll Get Through This. I did a music video. I sent it to a music producer and it turned out to be amazing. That was just me using my creative skills, doing something that I said, “What can I do to make this a helpful tool to the community?” The last one is prayerful. I believe that prayer gives us hope and hope is what we need right now. Everybody needs hope and help so be prayerful. Pray for your family. Pray for your friends. Pray for yourself. Pray and say thank you and be grateful. I pray for my friends daily.

I pray and then I act. Prayer without work is not as powerful as prayer and you do something. My grandmama used to say to me, “After you pray, get up and move your feet. Do something.” I’m encouraging people to pray than act. If you do, you’ll see great things. I pray for my family. I pray for my friends. In the Old Testament, there’s a story about the Hebrew children who put the blood on the door seal and the plague jumped over their homes. I’m praying that people will have something on their homes or their houses that this virus would jump over their homes. They’ll get through this and that they will succeed, prepare and make the most of this time.

One more thing I should share. One of my big industries is financial services. One of my friends who is a great financial service executive said to me, “This is a time that people should be learning about the importance of having your financial plan in order.” We might have seven years of good times and then a famine. During those good times, you should be putting something away for that rainy day. Let me tell you if you haven’t seen a rainy day before this one, know that this one is here, this tough time is here, we’ll get through this. When we do, don’t forget the lessons that another one is down the road.

Prepare now for that one down that road. What a great little creature the ant is. I write about the anonymity in my books. The ant is something we can look at. The ant works diligently in the summer because the ant knows that the winter is coming. It puts away something for the winter because the summer is the time to do it. Don’t spend up all your money in a good time. Put some away or get insurance. Make sure you have the proper things set up so that you are going to be better prepared for the next one.

I appreciate you sharing this. I don’t think that we could have this in a better time, where every one of those pointers could be used by all our audience regardless of where you are and what you’re doing, what role you have in your business, your personal life and where you are as a career. Those points are so important. The most important part of it, those are actionable pointers where we could start, as far as the panicking or making sure that you’re not adding fuel to the fire or being creative. As you look at your business forecast, once we get out of this, be creative, how you construct your actual offering, how you construct your actual team, how you could strengthen your financial stability and so on. I want to appreciate everything you said and giving some time for us as well. Dr. Willie Jolley is the author of many best-selling books. Unfortunately, we don’t have a lot of time to get into every single book. Let’s close with the four rapid-fire questions. Number one, that book that changed your life.

Rich Dad, Poor Dad, Think and Grow Rich, The Greatest Salesman in the World by Og Mandino, that’s probably one that had an impact.

Number two, a piece of advice you got that you’ll never forget?

Always pursue excellence, don’t settle for mediocrity, be the best you can even when you’re doing the little things. I got that from James Brown, the singer. It was his background singing with a lady named Jean Carne and we were opening for James Brown. He would come out to shells, fall on his knees. You could see the blood coming through his pants when he would fall on his knees. I said, “Mr. Brown, aren’t your knees hurting?” He said, “Let me tell you, I had to learn early on to always be excellent and give my best.”

Number three, anything you wish you could go back and do differently?

When I started my company, I would have gone first class earlier. Not that I had a lot of money, but I would have gone first-class in my delivery. It’s not just doing enough to get by, but a little more first-class. It would have had a longer impact.

Last and final question, what’s still on your bucket list to achieve?

I want you all to see me on television every day. That’s one of my goals that you’ll see me on television. I want you to see me having my jet with my name on it, flying into your event when I come to speak.

Thank you so much, Dr. Willie. Thank you so much for joining us. I know your time is valuable.

Let me give you one more site. Go to People can get my books and my box there at a discounted rate. That’s where you can get all my Books-in-a-Bag. You get a big discount on all the books put together in a box. All my resources, everything I’ve done over many years in a box. It’s a $2,000 box. You get it for $500. Get the bag for $100 or the box of $500. It will bless your family, your business and your future.

[bctt tweet=”If you cannot make a wise decision in a challenging moment, what you end up doing is making a poor decision.” username=””]

In the name of our audience, we will forever be grateful for sharing some of your time with us.

It’s a pleasure. Thank you for having me. Keep the faith. Together we’ll get through this and this too shall pass.

Thank you. 

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Guest Bio
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Dr. Willie Jolley

There are many motivational speakers, and then there is the one, the only, the incomparable Dr. Willie Jolley. He has been described simultaneously as a world-class, award-winning speaker and singer, best-selling author and media personality.

Dr. Willie Jolley has achieved remarkable heights in the speaking industry, having come from humble beginnings as a fired singer, who was replaced by a karaoke machine! He has gone on to be named “One of the Outstanding Five Speakers in the World” by the 175,000 members of Toastmasters International, inducted into the Speaker Hall of Fame and achieved the distinction of Certified Speaker Professional by the National Speakers Association.

He’s the recipient of the Ron Brown Distinguished Leadership Award, named “One of the Top 5 Leadership Speakers” by and Business Leader of The Year by The African American Chamber of Commerce.

Dr. Jolley uses his public platform to pursue his mission of empowering and encouraging people to rise above their circumstances and maximize their God-given potential! Many know him as the speaker Ford Motors called on when they were on the brink of bankruptcy. His work helped Ford reject a government bailout and go on to Billion Dollar profits!

Dr. Jolley has built a reputation of being captivating, compelling and life changing! No matter the venue, from his iHeartRadio Willie Jolley Wealthy Ways podcast to his SiriusXM Radio show, to his audiences like Walmart, Comcast, Verizon, Marriott or The Million Dollar Round Table, Dr. Jolley keeps it moving with high energy, high content and great enthusiasm.

He delivers memorable nuggets and usable strategies on how every person can live a better life, one day at a time!

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