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How to Release Disappointment and Thrive When Life Isn’t Fair

“When you learn to accept instead of expect, you'll have fewer disappointments.” ~Unknown

Two days before, I had been in the fetal position on my bathroom floor, thirty-six weeks pregnant and screaming with pain. It was excruciating, the worst pain I had ever experienced, and I had experienced lots.

As the ambulance officer supported me out the front door and into the back of the ambulance, all I could think was, “How is this going to affect my baby?”

After two ambulances, two hospitals, and a barrage of tests, I was sitting on the hospital bed, absolutely exhausted—physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

My thoughts started to go down the same well-worn path: “Why me? Why do I have to deal with this? Life isn’t supposed to be like this. It isn’t fair!”

It had been a common theme for me. I knew how life was supposed to turn out, and mine wasn’t it! It seemed like I had challenges to deal with that others didn’t—that my lot was harder.

I felt like all my energy and potential was being sucked up in dealing with adverse circumstances, leaving me no resources to do the things I really wanted to do in life.

For the last twenty-three years, I had battled Crohn’s disease, a debilitating and incurable illness that had resulted in increasing pain, illness, and limitation—until then. Four weeks before the birth of my second child, I had ended up in hospital with massive pain.

My doctors didn’t know how to deal with a woman having a Crohn’s flare up who was also pregnant, and wanted to induce labor to deliver the baby prematurely. I was faced with making choices about medical treatments that could have serious impacts on me and my unborn child.

As I sat there, I could feel the familiar frustration, dissatisfaction, and discontentment flooding over me.

And in that unlikely place, I had an epiphany.

Life is not the problem; expectations are.

I finally realized, looking back at my life, that every time I'd struggled to deal with the hand I’d been dealt, it was because my expectations were clashing with reality. I had created a picture in my head of how life should be and when things didn’t turn out, I didn’t cope.

It wasn’t life that was the problem; it was my unrealistic expectations. I had thought that being idealistic and striving for a goal was a good thing, but it wasn’t leading to a contented and fulfilled life.

If you are feeling hardly done by and frustrated about your circumstances, ask yourself if there is a mismatch between the reality of your situation and what you expected. If there is, you have inadvertently set yourself up for frustration, disappointment, and even anger.

While these emotions are natural when we experience adversity, they are not helpful to live with long term.

The only way to resolve them is to face up to the situation you are actually in and accept it. This does not mean we should not have any expectations but if we want to be content, we need to accept what is during hard times while trusting for something better in the future.

Instead of trying to change the world, change your focus.

While I was in the hospital, I talked to other mothers who had been there for the whole of their pregnancy or whose babies would need surgery as soon as they were born. It made me realize that while I was in a hard place, things could have been so much worse.

I realized that I was only seeing one side of my life. I was very good at seeing what was not there (that I thought should have been), but was ignoring what was there that was good.

In thinking about my illness, I was focusing on the pain and how it was stopping me from earning an income, and how my energy was limited, and how the whole situation was negatively affecting my family.

But I wasn’t embracing and being grateful for how other people, particularly my husband, cared for me, how I was growing in wisdom and compassion, and how the experience was teaching me more about myself.

If you seem to be coping with more than your fair share of frustration and disappointment, check your focus for a minute. Are you only seeing the gaps, where reality isn’t meeting your expectations, or are you also acknowledging the good that is coming your way?

It may be helpful to create a list with two columns where you can explore what you are feeling about your circumstances.

On the right side, write down where your expectations aren’t aligning with reality: where the gaps are, what sucks, and what you think shouldn’t be happening.

On the other side, write down what is positive: where the divine is in the situation and what is great about this. This is not about being falsely positive. This is about finding the moments of genuine joy and connection in the midst of pain.

Pay attention to how you feel when making each list. Having refocused the situation for yourself, you can now choose which emotions to take into the future about that experience.

The great thing about this exercise is that it frees you from striving to change the world to match your own expectations. Instead, all you need to feel happier is a little shift in your focus.

Embrace the pain and then take control.

I learned that I needed to embrace the whole experience, both the good parts and the gaps, and that gave me the ability to choose a more empowering set of beliefs and meaning for what was happening to me. This in turn helped me discover new possibilities that I couldn’t see before.

Having refocused myself, I was able to sort through a lot of complex information and options regarding medical treatment, define what outcomes I wanted, and make a constructive action plan that put me in charge of my health.

And the end result? That time round, beginning with circumstances that weren’t promising at all, I got all the outcomes I wanted, including a healthy baby and a natural birth.

The irony about accepting the situations we find ourselves in is that once we have, we are able to make decisions and take action that moves us toward the place we truly want to be. We stop feeling like a victim of circumstance and more like the captain of our own ship.

That doesn’t mean that we will get what we want every time. Life doesn’t work like that. However, coming to a place of acceptance gives us the strength and peace to deal with whatever outcome we receive, whether desired or not, and the ability to move forward rather than getting stuck in adversity.

Empowering questions we can ask ourselves include:

  • What outcomes do I want? Write down every result that is important to you in the situation.
  • What beliefs can I choose that will support me right now? Give yourself an empowering set of beliefs that help you feel hopeful in the situation.
  • What action can I take? Outline actions you can take today, this week, and in the next month that will move you toward your outcomes.

You can soar above adversity.

These days, I still have Crohn’s disease but have largely given up my unrealistic expectations—and not living with that frustration has taken a lot of stress away from my life. I am in better health than I have been for years and achieving more.

It took a while for me to let go of my idealism and find the good in adversity, but by practicing it over a number of years, I have gotten better at it.

We all live with circumstances that are not ideal. Life is too short to live in frustration that things are not the way we want them to be.

Why you? Because there are important jewels you can discover in the midst of adversity that will reward you for the rest of your life. You are strong enough to embrace reality and perform the alchemy that will transform frustration into contentment and positive outcomes.

We’re all here rooting for you.

Go and make it happen.

About Susan Jones

Susan Jones is the founder of ReadySetStartup.com, helping aspiring entrepreneurs develop both the strategy and psychology to create 6 figure income businesses. She lectures in Entrepreneurship at Swinburne University and is passionate about empowering women entrepreneurs. You can grab a copy of her free Startup Blueprint: 5 Steps to Launching your 6 figure business.

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  • growthguided

    Isn’t attitude everything?

    I love how we assume life has thrown us a curve ball and we want to assume the roll as victim. But, in your case you were quickly brought back down to humility when you found out about the children needing surgery. That is a powerful change in perspective.

    Thank you for your post Susan =)

  • Sarah Woolley

    Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful … Thank you so much for sharing your experiences here! I so needed to be reminded to adjust my point of view (attitude) … Thank you! ♥

  • Thanks for the kind words Sarah. I’m glad you found the post encouraging. 🙂

  • Michelle

    Susan, thanks for a wonderful article. It really carries weight because you”ve been through such pain…which means you’ve really EARNED the perspective you write about having here. (One of the key insights, at least for me, is when you say, “This is not about being falsely positive. This is about finding the moments of genuine joy and connection in the midst of pain.”

    I have other health-related issues, and I know how easy it is to get caught up in the “why me?” mindset. When I find myself there, I will now think of you and your story and remember that I’m not alone. 🙂

  • You’re right Michelle. It IS easy to get caught up in ‘Why me?’ It took me a long time, but eventually I learned that it wasn’t a useful question and dwelling on it wasn’t bringing happiness to me.

    You are not alone. And I know you are resilient enough to pull through the tough times and come out stronger.

  • You are very welcome. 🙂

    Thanks for your thoughts. I agree. It is easy to assume the role as victim. And we tend to get rewarded for it – with sympathy, help, feeling significant. But ultimately it’s not empowering and doesn’t lead us to a better place within ourselves.

  • Leanne_Regalla

    Excellent post, Susan, and great story! I know exactly what you mean about expectations and acceptance. Really makes a big difference in our quality of life when we learn these lessons, doesn’t it? 😉

  • It absolutely does! Changing my beliefs around expectations and deciding to trust instead was probably the single most effective thing I’ve done to decrease my stress levels.

  • Mary

    Great post! Very insightful. Thanks for your honesty and congrats on your progress 🙂
    I dealt with infertility for years and finally realized that what I was dealing with wasn’t the loss of not having a child… it was the anger of not being able to have a baby when my friends were easily getting pregnant. I finally (and thankfully) realized I was upset for all the wrong reasons. Fast forward five years later and I am still childless but have happily embraced my life for what it is 🙂 Not that I don’t still deal with sadness and frustration, overall my life is so much better with changed expectations. We may not have the choice in what happens to us in life, but we most certainly have the choice of how we deal with the challenges.

  • Oh Mary, that must be a hard one to deal with. Thanks for being vulnerable enough to share a little bit of your story and how you have coped with the challenge. I just know it will be helpful to someone else.

  • Life is not the problem; expectations are.
    Just that one realization can totally change your life… and yet, even after realizing it, I find myself falling victim to expectations every now and then…

    I needed to hear this today, Susan — Thanks!

    PS: Sorry to hear about the Crohn’s – I wish you the best in keeping up the great attitude that you have developed. Good luck!

  • I think we all fall victim to expectations Sumitha. I don’t know about you, but I haven’t learnt any of life’s lessons perfectly yet. 🙂

    Thanks for your kind words. Since working on my expectations, I have been able to proactively find strategies that are enabling me to manage my health really effectively. It’s not perfect but so much better now than it’s ever been. I can’t complain. I have an amazing life.

  • Dee Sol

    I’m curious to know what you believe is the difference between “unrealistic expectations” and manifesting the things that you want via the law of attraction?

  • Jenna

    I have absolutely nothing in my life…at least you have a husband and two children. I have no family…nothing. I can’t stand it when people complain about everything in their life when they have everything. Me…I graduated from law school, failed the bar exam, have to take it again, and even if I pass this time, I can’t find a job to save my life. I can’t get a boyfriend, let alone a husband and I’m pretty much the biggest loser on the planet. All I want is a a job and husband…I don’t think that’s asking for too much. And what else do I have in my life if I don’t have either of those things? The liberty and freedom to do what I want at any given time? Yeah, I’ve had that for 33 years! Now I’;m ready to settle down and have a family, but nobody wants me because I’m a big, ugly, black worthless woman with nothing to offer. Every man I’ve ever opened up to has rejected me. Everything I touch turns to dust. I hate my life. If I had a husband and a job, I would be happy. I told myself if I’m not even remotely close to getting either of those things by my 35th birthday that I would hang myself. I’ve got two more year…so fingers crossed! 🙂

  • Joseph Robinson

    Great Post! Thanks for sharing something so personal. Like you, I have had those moments where my expectations were way out of line with what the world was mirroring back to me.

    I felt disconnected, out of control, abandoned by everyone.

    Later I discovered I was actually feeling my own thoughts about a situation and created my feelings of angst and frustration. That didn’t stop the fact a real event took place that was unpleasant or I didn’t get what I wanted.
    Health concerns have a way of making themselves important and urgent in attention-getting ways!

    I did discover I could change what I wanted into what I got.
    Health issues turned into life-saving wake up calls, positive relationships with care givers, and finally healing and or adjusted approach to life living with what is real.

    Often it was none-to-pleasant, but I turned it around and treated things like my business failure as a lesson, my broken marriage as training for the right relationship, and my bad habits as ways to grow.

    Your perspective is inspiring — by giving me some tangible tasks, you add one more tool to my resiliency kit!

    Sharing this awareness with others makes all the difference.

  • Mary Francesca

    Thank you for this WONDERFULLY raw, open and honest account. This article will help more people than you know…

  • Thank you Mary. 🙂

  • Joseph, your insight there is gold: “I did discover I could change what I wanted into what I got.”
    Thanks for sharing.

  • Thanks for your honesty Jenna.

    I don’t know you, but I know you are lovely and valuable. You have been fearfully and wonderfully made. You were created for a purpose and loved by God even before the moment of your birth.

    The fact that you can be honest and articulate how you feel is a great first step out of the place you find yourself in. Although you may be unable to change some of your circumstances right now, remember that the ways you feel about them are just that – feelings – and therefore able to be changed.

    Please be kind to yourself. Give yourself love and compassion. Let go of your rules about how your life is supposed to be. Start to be grateful for the good things you have right now, even if they are small and seem insignificant to you.

    There are great things in your life even though you aren’t recognising them at the moment – a beautiful flower you see on your walk to the store, the way your cat purrs when you tickle his chin, the flavour of icecream, the way your eyes crinkle when you smile.

    I know this sounds like BS and no real solution, but if you practice gratitude, you will find your world starting to open up. (You’ll have to trust me on this one. :-))

    And I urge you that if the way you are feeling seems overwhelming and you can’t get on top of it – find help. Find someone who can help you heal from the inside out. You don’t have to keep living this way. I believe you will find the resources you need to see the truth of who you are and be all you were created to be.

  • hi

    so boring

  • hijacker

    hijacker bored

  • hijacker

    hi wiliam

  • hijacker

    i said hi william

  • Jls

    This was such a great read. I’ve been really looking at my reactivity lately–especially within the past week.
    Thank you for sharing this! It definitely hit home.

  • Thanks. I’m glad it was helpful

  • Logophile123

    No offence, but quoting Oprah Winfrey in an article is just awful, do take care while quoting. When reading a quote by Buddha, Krishna, Lincoln, Gandhi, Vivekananda etc, you feel the vibe and the image that comes before your mind is very inspiring, very genuine and very very peaceful.
    She maybe a philanthropist, but what comes to mind while reading her name is money, materialist ambitions, maybe I am wrong here but a very phony image surfaces up. It’s my humble request to please ponder over my comment. And I feel very sorry for not commenting on your beautiful article but on her. I felt like sharing, so I did.

  • Hi Dee,
    Great question. I think it would require a whole new post to answer it properly but I’ll try briefly her. 🙂

    My personal view on the law of attraction is that there are elements of truth in that teaching, but I don’t accept it holus-bolus. So I’m going to talk about the difference between unrealistic expectations and expecting good things in the future.

    Unrealistic expectations often have a sense of stress or striving attached. We are straining against reality and refusing to accept it because we want something different than what is.

    The problem with this is that for much of the time we are unhappy and even if our expectations are fulfilled, we are briefly happy for a moment and then unhappy again because something else is not meeting our expectations.

    A more peaceful and fulfilling way to live is to come to a place of acceptance and contentment. To me, contentment means my happiness is not dependent on my circumstances.

    If we can come to a place of acceptance and contentment, we can chose to be at peace and to anticipate good, no matter what is or is not happening around us. From this place, with a more positive outlook, we can set goals and work towards them more effectively. We are not expecting the world to ‘owe us’ and drop what we want in our lap. We give up our victim mentality. We accept that we have some part in moulding our future.

    We are also more resilient when something goes wrong or doesn’t match our expectations and we can find other options more quickly that will move us towards our goals.

    We are not living with the stress of wanting our expectations now. Rather we accept the present and hope for the future.

    Of course, no human can live in this state all the time, because we are not perfect, but it is about catching our discontentment quickly when we feel it and coming back to a more peaceful and trusting place.

    Does that make sense?

  • Dee Sol

    Do you mean to take more a neutral approach to life?? … then get excited about the successes?

  • I think I’m trying to say that it is more empowering and powerful to look forward with hope from a place of acceptance of the present rather than hope from a place of denial of the present.

  • Tsuki

    One of the most practical articles i have ever read here @ReadySetStartup:disqus Thank you! will keep this handy 🙂

  • Hi LogoPhile123,

    Oprah went through serious sexual and physical abuse as a child by people she knew (if I remember right it was by family members). Until I read her life story I would have agreed with you.

    But look back into her past because what she has been through and still managed to thrive is astonishing.

    Surely anyone young person who has been through something similar and believes their life is over, their worthless or even they deserved to abused Oprah is proof can be light at the end of the tunnel.

    Agreed?

    Naomi

  • Hi Susan,

    I really respect anyone who can honestly open up and share their life struggles.

    It sounds like you’ve cope great!

    Sometimes I do forget. But every morning I woke up and when I’m about to go to bed I remember what I’m thankful for.

    Even if all you have is your health… Be thankful

    Naomi

  • Logophile123

    I agree I was bit opinionated. I have nothing against Oprah, after what she went through and what she eventually became is commendable! I will be a sheer hypocrite if I say otherwise. What I want to say is a bit different thing.
    Imagine you or I going through such experience. Will We be the same after this? No, we will understand the frivolity of morals, we’ll release the value of money! I don’t oppose her because in the end she’s helping more people than I can ever do! It’s fact. But, I don’t a vibe of selflessness, her bank balance doesn’t reflect altruistic character. Fair enough, even I would like to have a lot of money. But, then i’ll lose the right to be quoted as an ideal person. I am like her, she is like me. Not extra-ordinary. Her battle and life is surely though! This may be a profanity, but every time I look at her face & hear her words, they aren’t genuine, she looks bit grasping. Well, this criticism is related to her being quoted not what she is or has achieved! Please check the context. because Quoting her automatically make us juxtapose with other great souls who have lived! Not against her or the place where people are trying to elevate her. I am open to discussion, don’t want to die an opinionated man 🙂

  • Thanks for the feedback. I’m glad you found it useful. 🙂

  • JustMe

    “When life hands you lemons, make lemonade”. Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. Heard it before.

  • Claudia Knudten

    I think it’s important to keep in mind that all people are multi-faceted and all have something to teach us, if we can remain open to it. Might be important for you to look at your strong, automatic, negative reaction.