“A man’s errors are his portals of discovery.” ~James Joyce
I’ve had a bit of experience with disappointment. I got very motivated to change my relationship with it when I was in my twenties and starting my acupuncture practice.
I knew it would take time to build my client base; what I didn’t realize, or more likely was in denial about, was that a very effective way of doing that was by arranging public speaking gigs. I absolutely hated public speaking. Big disappointment.
I also didn’t consider how much work running a business really was. I had to talk to supplement vendors, deal with the landlord, make sure the copy machine was working, learn new computer programs, do the laundry, and on and on.
I wanted to do acupuncture! I didn’t want to vacuum the floors and call about the errors on the phone bill! I realized pretty quickly I had to learn how to reassess my feelings of disappointment or I wouldn’t have the gumption and energy to continue on my quest.
Having the tenacity to overcome disappointment is a necessary skill. Some disappointing experiences are unavoidable. Sometimes that engaging person we meet at the coffee shop doesn’t call, or the job we were a great fit for is offered to someone else.
These things happen, and generally we can roll with it.
However, with larger scale disappointments, or recurring disappointments, it’s great to have a strategy to transform that “down” feeling into motivated action.
When we feel disappointed, it’s easy for us to slow down, to say, “Why bother?” and to allow ourselves to get knocked off our trajectory. The following steps can help shift our viewpoint and revamp those feelings into action.
1. Explore your original expectations surrounding the goal.
If there is disappointment, then there was expectation. So what was our initial expectation? The answer to this is sometimes surprising…
Once that’s fleshed out, we can ask ourselves, was this expectation realistic? Was it well thought out? What was motivating the desired outcome to begin with? Did we do the steps that one might reasonably expect to do to experience this desired outcome?
These can be hard questions. At times we’ll find our expectations are very reasonable. Other times, not so much. It can be tough to break down our desires, which are largely driven by emotions, in this logical manner.
However, it’s a great practice that can help us to explore our expectations more deeply. It helped me to recognize that my initial expectations about having my own business were idealistic vs. real world.
2. Make a decision.
Armed with the information we’ve gathered from the previous set of explorations, it’s time to decide how we want to proceed.
Our decision will fall into one of three categories:
We can continue on in the same vein after the desired outcome.
This would be a great route if we’ve decided that while, yes, it was disappointing that our favorite boutique doesn’t want to carry our new jewelry line, there are other cool shops in town we can approach as well.
We can change the route we will take to reach the desired outcome.
This can be the most complicated decision, depending on the outcome. We may realize we don’t have the training required to get the job we’d like, hence it being offered to someone else.
We still want the job, so it may be time to look into continuing education or an unpaid internship to gain more experience. The outcome will remain the same, there’s just a bit of recalculating required to get there.
We can change the desired outcome altogether.
This is not about experiencing defeat or throwing in the towel. Rather, sometimes this type of deeper exploration will help us to further refine what our desires are.
For example, I have a friend who wanted to go back to school for a degree in childhood education. After applying to several programs and being turned down, despite a great application and transcripts, her disappointment was pretty evident.
I suggested these steps to her, and through personal question-asking she came to realize she didn’t want to go back to school at all. The key was that she wanted to work with children, so she decided to change the focus of her current profession, physical therapy, so that she specialized in working with kids.
3. Install some new expectations.
While the second step may have seemed like the last, don’t skip this third one!
Regardless of which of the three types of decision we make, we want to make sure we toss out the old expectations and replace them with new, updated, and perhaps more informed (or more realistic) versions.
If we have never jogged for exercise but want to start, setting a goal to run a 5k in six months time is more prudent then planning on a marathon. Making dinner for a friend when we are first learning to cook is more sensible then attempting a five-course dinner for 12.
Keeping our incremental goals levelheaded while we dream big is a great way to reach those dreams.
It’s common for successful people to describe their journey as a long series of minor and major obstacles, infused with a few glorious moments of achievement. Their ability to withstand disappointment, reassess their route, and continue on their road is an incredibly important part of their success.
What disappointments have you overcome in your life and how did you grow from them?
Photo by Shayan USA