Responsible Decision-Making

Family Resources on Life “Mulligan”

Project and Purpose

Students will apply advice from experts to analyze situations they would like to “do over” to turn a setback in to a comeback.

Essential Questions

How do we learn and move on from setbacks?

Note: Teachers should consider showing the archival video “Setbacks Make Us Stronger” found HERE.

If this lesson was used in the classroom: Students considered how setbacks and failures can be used to learn from and use to find future success. In class students discussed the situations of several famous people who experienced setbacks and failures and used those experiences for learning and motivation. In groups students brainstormed and assessed strategies to learn from mistakes and take a “mulligan.”

Getting Ready for the Conversation

Everyone experiences setbacks in professional and in personal life. Resilient people have learned to assess a setback or failure; using these as support for another attempt.

Conversation notes:
Although during competition it is against the rules of golf to take a mulligan it is a standard practice in casual games. Resilient youth know that they are cared for and that with work they can achieve even in the face of failure.

For more on making mistakes check out this article in Greater Good by Amy L Eva:

Even though the article is for teachers, this article by Laurie Wasserman can be helpful for parents and mentors:

Constructive Conversation Starters

The first item is for follow-up after participating in class activities.

What are some of the mulligan strategies your group discussed in class. Are any of these helpful for you? Why or why not?

Describe a setback you had that you overcame? What motivated you to not give up? How can you use this belief in the future? Why will this work?

Who is someone (it does not have to be a famous person) who overcame a serious setback or failure? Describe why this person overcame this obstacle. What can you learn from this person? Why are successful (not necessarily financial success) people rarely bothered by mistakes?

School to Home Resources on Life Mulligan


1. Post/Write the word “mulligan.” It refers to a shot that never happens in professional golf, but rather in games among friends when the group allows a “do over” shot once per round or only on the first tee. Explain that this golf term has expanded to other areas of life to mean “do over:” to acknowledge whatever happened that did not turn out well the first time, use what you learned from the first experience, and try a different approach—sometimes three, four, or one hundred times.

2. Consider the following people who use multiple metaphorical “mulligans” in life when their first attempts at success did not work:

  • Taraji P. Henson: Henson was rejected from the Duke Ellington School of the Arts in Washington, DC, a school with a very rigorous audition process and a track record of subsequently famous musicians, dancers, artists, and actors. Henson’s family encouraged her to continue, and after college she moved to LA. After multiple auditions, she landed her first role in a film (Baby Boy), but then did not secure a role for another three years. She used the time to hone her skills, taking classes and continuing to audition. Now she boasts an Oscar nominated role in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and a Golden Globe for her role in the television series Empire.
  • Michael Jordan: Jordan was cut from his high school basketball team, but after that disappointment and because he loved the game so much, he dedicated himself to improvement. He went on to play for the prestigious UNH basketball team, and became a six-time NBA
    champion, a five-time MVP winner, and a 14-time All-Star player.
  • Steven King: King’s first novel Carrie was rejected by publishers 30 times. Meanwhile he supported his family by working as a gas station attendant (in the 1970s, attendants pumped gas — no selfservice) and they lived in a trailer. His wife told him they had lived through hard times and could work through it — and he submitted it one more time to publishers. Eventually Carrie became the first of more than 50 novels by this National Book Award winner and 19th best-selling author.
  • Vera Wang: Wang wanted to be an Olympic figure skater, but when she missed the team in 1968, she re-evaluated her life goals and changed paths. Rather than focus on her failure, she took the skills that made her such a fierce competitor and applied them to a different career in fashion design. As she said in an interview with Business of Fashion, “When you fall down — which you have to [do] if you want to learn to be a skater — you pick yourself right up and start again. You don’t let anything deter you,” she notes. “Oddly enough, it’s strangely like fashion — you have a limited amount of time in which to get a point of view across.”

3. Discuss: How did these famous people recover from their setbacks? What would their lives have been like if they had let the setback deter them? How did they apply the “Mulligan” to their careers? What lessons did they learn?

4. Brainstorm and record a list of setbacks that can plague high school students. This might include examples such as: not earning a desired the grade, being rejected from a competitive program, a serious argument with a friend, breaking up with a boyfriend/girlfriend, etc. You should list at least as many setbacks as there are groups of three in your class.

5. Form groups of three or four. Post/distribute the “Mulligan Strategies” list and briefly review. Explain that groups will select one of the setbacks from the class generated list (if possible, make sure each group has a different setback), and use the Mulligan Strategy list to determine options for any teen in this situation to set up a mulligan, a do-over.

6. Determine how you would like the groups to present their information, e.g. an oral presentation, a written response, etc. and determine the requirements for each.


When students have completed their presentations, have students write a personal response such as a journal entry that talks about applying one of the strategies to a personal setback they have experienced.

Password Reset
Please enter your e-mail address. You will receive a new password via e-mail.