The first major disappointment I faced in life was not getting into graduate studies at Cornell, 20 years ago.
My most recent disappointment is not getting a practicum placement now that I’m in grad school at UBC (I’m getting my Master’s of Social Work). That was two months ago.
And I’ve had lots of — worse — disappointments in between.
Actually, my first major disappointment in life was not having a mom and a dad. I spent most of my childhood in and out of foster homes, while my mom went in and out of hospitals. She has schizophrenia, and has never been able to get a handle on it.
But I don’t count my childhood as a “real” disappointment because I didn’t try and fail to get parents. This article is about wanting something really bad…and recovering from the disappointment of failing.
4 Ways to Bounce Back From a Major Disappointment
“The difference between successful people and unsuccessful people is that successful people fail more.” – Martha Beck, life coach and author.
Get strong before you get disappointed
It may be too late for you to do this now, but one of the best ways to recover from disappointment is to put on your armour before you need it. Get strong before you get it! Back when I was waiting to hear if I got into grad school (20 years ago, I wanted to be a psychologist), I read When Smart People Fail. The title alone helped me gear up for possible disappointment; the contents helped me realize that even though I get disappointment, my failures don’t define me.
In When Smart People Fail, Hyatt and Gottlieb share what they learned from interviewing professionals in many fields. They found most had experienced personal or professional failures. Common reasons included poor interpersonal skills, wrong fit, lack of commitment, self destructive behavior, poor management skills, and bad luck.
The way back from failure, they said, was to use the power of one’s mind to analyze what went wrong, reinterpret your story, re-label yourself, and expand your options. Read the book to learn more about those strategies for success.
Lick your wounds
You can’t successfully recover from a major disappointment until you mourn it. I’m still mourning an older disappointment Bruce and I faced as a couple: we can’t have kids. I’m mostly okay with being a childless couple, but every once in a while I’m profoundly sad about it. For instance, when a friend recently announced her pregnancy, a fresh wave of disappointment and sadness about our infertility washed over me, and stayed with me for several hours.
It’s important to mourn your losses, lick your wounds, retreat into your cave and just be sad that life doesn’t seem fair.
Assume it’s for the best
I don’t know what my life would be like with kids, or if I was a psychologist, or if I’d grown up with a mom and a dad. Maybe I’d be happier and wealthier; maybe I’d be sadder and poorer.
What I do know is that every path in life is bittersweet. The best situations have a downside, and the happiest moments can be twinged with gray. There is no such thing as a perfect life.
What helps me recover from disappointment is the belief that God knows what He’s doing. For some reason, Bruce and I aren’t meant to have kids. I was meant to have a terrible childhood with a single schizophrenic mother. I believe it’s for the best. Bruce doesn’t agree with me on this one (at least, he didn’t agree the last time we talked about it!). But assuming it’s for the best helps me cope with disappointment.
Do you criticize yourself when you fail or disappoint yourself? Read How to Stop Your Inner Critic – 5 Ways to Criticize Yourself Less.
Start looking forward
We heard a fantastic sermon from Barbara Mutch on Sunday; she talked about living in exile. That’s the disappointment or failure, the gap between what you want and what you have, the dry desert of waiting for what you want most. Mutch encouraged people living in exile to keep moving forward, dig in, and use your hands.
Are you tired of living in disappointment? Start letting go of the old world. Let go of what you formerly held. Let go of control, and of the arrogance that says you know what’s best for your life. Receive a new world with an open hand.
Bouncing back – resilience – is never easy. But it’s worth it because your new life will be sweeter and tastier than holding on to the dry husk of your old life.
What about you – how do you recover from disappointing news?
For more ways to cope with disappointment, read 10 Steps to Changing Your Life.
I'm glad you're here! My name is Laurie Pawlik-Kienlen; my husband Bruce and I live in Vancouver, BC with our critters. We can't have kids, and are learning to accept whatever life brings - both good and bad. I have an MSW (Master of Social Work) from UBC, and degrees in Education and Psychology. I hope you say hello below - I can't give relationship advice, but writing can bring you clarity and insight.