Do any of these situations sound familiar?
•You get turned down at your first choice graduate school.
•You find your partner is still texting his ex.
•You fail a required licensure exam.
•You are passed over for promotion.
•Your sibling swears she no longer drinks then gets stopped for a DUI.
•You bet money you couldn’t afford on the office pool, and your team loses.
What happened in these situations? Could your disappointment have been predicted or even prevented? What can you do to better manage disappointment in the future?
The following ten suggestions may help you put disappointment in a better perspective.
1. Remember reality. Your parents and mentors always encourage you to have stretch goals, to reach further, to try harder. Big goals are important, but they need some basis in reality. Don’t get so caught up in a whirlwind of wishful thinking that you forget to actually work for success.
2. Learn to manage your expectations of others. You know change is hard, and that people rarely change. Why do you keep hoping for something that is so unlikely. This isn’t to suggest that you withdraw your help or support from someone who is trying to do better. Just don’t count on the change finally happening, and make sure you don’t accept any responsibility for their failures.
3, Manage your expectations for yourself. Think about the usual goals you set each New Year’s—things like exercising every day, eating healthier foods, or getting more rest. You may make some incremental changes, but it is difficult to change a lifestyle. Given this experience, why does your goal of losing 20 or 30 or 45 pounds in the six months before your wedding seem possible? Aren’t you simply setting yourself up for personal failure and disappointment?
4. Do your research and know the facts. How many people pass that licensing exam on first try? How many take a prep course beforehand? Talk with colleagues to get their perspective on how best to succeed. Decide how you will approach the situation differently this time?
5. Build solid back-up plans. Spontaneity is fine, but there are areas where you need to stop and consider the big picture. Using part of your rent money to show support for your favorite sports team is simply foolish. Likewise, what would happen if that long-awaited vacation to Europe had to be cancelled due to illness. Purchasing travel insurance would be a good back-up plan.
6. Give it your all. Did you do everything you could to get a good job evaluation or did your frequent Monday “sick days” create a negative impression? Did you volunteer for extra assignments or did you try to avoid any overtime or extra effort? It may be useful to ask your boss if there were things you could have done differently regarding the recent promotion opportunity.
7. If you really want something, keep trying. Think incrementally. Build on each small success. As basketball great Michael Jordan once said, “You miss 100% of the shots you never take.”
8. Conversely, be honest with yourself. If you keep talking about living in the city or changing careers, and yet another year goes by, and you haven’t done anything to move forward, it may be time for a different narrative and a restructuring of goals. When you make no effort, you may not really want change.
9. Don’t wear blinders. If the administration is talking about downsizing, don’t automatically assume you will be one of the lucky ones who remains. Evaluate your possibilities, and, once again, build a back-up plan.
10. Learn to protect yourself against disappointment caused by others. If a family member has a problem with substance abuse, get some professional support for yourself. Learn how to better handle the situation so you are not drawn into every crisis. Likewise, if you believe your partner is still interested in his ex, get some couples counseling.
We all face disappointments in life. Some are caused by unavoidable situations, some are caused by others, and some we are responsible for ourselves. Not all disappointments can be prevented, but many can be lessened and overcome more easily with good planning and better self-awareness.