Dealing with Disappointment.

Disappointment is almost impossible to avoid.  Although it’s not particularly fun to dwell on, the disappointments I experience in my personal and professional life are worth talking about, because they are a very real part of life.  Disappointment demands to be felt, needs to be dealt with, pays to be learned from, and we can benefit from it in the long run.

. . .

When I was about 6, I was walking in a park with my family.  We were walking along a path, with posts all along the left side of it and a chain attached from post to post, to form a fence.  The little wild child within me wanted to hop over the chain (it was only about 5 inches from the ground), so I did.  But I got my foot caught, and landed on my stomach as I fell to the ground.  I don’t remember skinning my knee or elbow or twisting my ankle, but I remember this really terrible feeling I had never felt before. I described the pain and asked my dad why I felt so bad and he told me it was because there’s always a little bit of air reserved in your lungs and it hurts when it gets pushed out, which was what my fall had done to that air in my lungs.

That’s a little bit of what I think it feels like to be disappointed.

Sometimes, you find out that something you were holding out hope for, isn’t happening.  At least not as far as you can see. And although this feeling isn’t quite like the sting of someone being downright mean or purposely hurtful, it still brings a type of pain with it, which is why dwelling on disappointment isn’t fun.   I’m talking about it right now because it’s a big deal, even if it doesn’t happen often in life (and I hope for both you and I, it doesn’t).  When it comes to anything we have to put ourselves out there to accomplish or be recognized for, we are opening ourselves up to an elevated risk for disappointment and hurt, and therefore, almost everyone is touched by it.

Whether it’s love, marriage, competitions, applications, auditions, relationships, business, respect, entrepreneurship, vulnerability, or anything else with the possibility of a high reward, we run the risk of being disappointed that the outcome we wished for did not become a reality.  Disappointment is not necessarily something bad happening to us, but the lack of something good we were hoping for.  To hope at all opens us up to the possibility of disappointment.

Disappointment is (hopefully) a few-and-far-between, but very real and unavoidable part of life, especially if you are striving for great things. So when each of us come to a place where we have to face disappointment, what do we do?  We usually have a few options: quit and close up, become bitter and hurt, or gain some perspective and grow. I don’t want to let disappointment convince us to quit or be hurt and stop moving forward.  I want us to take this inevitability and learn how to win from it.

Sometimes, disappointment is not your fault or anything you could have avoided, even with the most vigilant, wise or knowledgeable perspective, but it can provide us with a new, valuable perspective for the future.  I think that’s a big part of what irks me so much about disappointment.  Disappointment inherently hits us in our blind spots, if it didn’t, we might have known how to avoid it.  Disappointment isn’t something that can be entirely avoided if we just knew the right “warning signs” to look out for.  I would go as far as to say that we shouldn’t really be trying to avoid disappointment – because by doing so, we would end up never striving for anything great.

The risk of disappointment is naturally taken on when we hope for something good.  I choose to believe that hoping and striving for those good things is worth the risk of disappointment.

I think of disappointment as a natural occurrence that provides us with an opportunity to gain a new perspective and become stronger, more well-rounded human beings, if we choose to take it.

 Sometimes, I’m surprised by the things that I find myself disappointed by. Instead of trying to avoid disappointment altogether, even if I could, I want to learn as much as I can from it.  About myself and about what matters most to me. About my expectations.  About God.  About how He responds when I ask him for things I thought were good, but He doesn’t give them to me.  About other people and my reliance on them to make me happy.  About how I deal with things that knock the wind out of me.  About how to get back up when I’ve been knocked down.  I want to take all of these lessons and allow them to make me a more complex, deep, caring, compassionate, kind, aware, and loving person.

I want to even take it a step further and be thankful for disappointment and expect it in the future.  I don’t want to run from it, but when I get knocked down, I want to stay on the ground for just a minute longer than I would naturally want to, and take a look at the world around me from this unique perspective that (thankfully) I don’t get to see everyday.  Not so that I can have a pity party, but so that I can understand, in a new way, the characteristics that I need to add to my drive in order to keep moving forward in the future in spite of disappointment rearing it’s ugly head again.  It’s important to stay there in the dust for a minute.  Hug someone, and maybe even let a few tears fall.  But then pick yourself back up and dust off from the fall.  When you find yourself in disappointment, take a second to see something you haven’t seen before and realize that getting knocked down is not the worst thing in the world.  That way, when you make it back up to your feet, you’ll rise with the insight, compassion, and bravery that getting knocked down by disappointment is not the end and can actually make us better people.

And in the middle of the disappointment muck that seems to stick to you and keep you from freely moving forward even once you have stood up and dusted yourself off, just concern yourself with putting one foot back on the path.  And then put your other foot in front of that one.  And repeat.  Until the disappointment is something of the past that you become thankful for, because now you’re stronger. Because you had to learn to get up and walk again after you had the the wind knocked out of you and you did it.

We can not only get up and rise above, but also learn to be thankful for disappointment, because wherever our path takes us, now we know how to get up, take a deep breath, and keep moving forward.