How do you deal with disappointment?
In speaking with clients, reading studies, and reflecting on social media posts, it’s clear so many of us are disappointed with our work situations, our elected officials, even with our important relationships – enough to feel a heavy weight on our shoulders. So, how do we deal with disappointment so it doesn’t impact our quality of life and other relationships? How do we know what is a healthy amount of disappointment?
I think we need to look at a time in our past when we were disappointed and handled it well. It’s my experience as a coach that this is where we can garner great insight.
I remember my first work disappointment like it was yesterday.
How NOT to Land a Job
As a kid, people called me ‘an old soul’. Perhaps not surprisingly, at the ripe age of 10, I decided it was about time I entered the workforce. So, when I saw a sign posted in the window of the local greasy spoon, ‘Help Wanted,’ I had a sense it had been placed there just for me. How did they know I was ready for my first job?
I was walking back from the library with my mom, and said to her, “I just have to go in here for a second.” Mom looked kind of stunned as I just marched right in there, head high, big smile on my face. The owner with his greasy apron (they don’t call it a greasy spoon for nothing) and the wait staff, with their polyester diner uniforms, were sitting at the front table. They all looked up at the sound of the bell over the door.
Pointing to the ‘Help Wanted’ sign, I said, “Hi, I would like to apply for the job.” Much to my surprise, the owner just stared at me at first, then looked at his staff, then back at me. Then proceeded to burst out laughing. A deep belly laugh that rippled through his body. He looked at his staff, and then they were in hysterics too!
I started to slouch. Never did I expect this reaction. I looked down at my feet.
The owner said, “How old are you, little girl?”
I lifted my head and looked at him. “Ten.”
He started laughing again. “Come back when you are out of training pants.”
I slinked out of the restaurant. My mom’s eyes were full of sympathy. I am pretty sure she knew what was going to happen.
All the way home I wallowed in my disappointment. Just as we were walking up the front steps of our house, my mom said to me, “Sarah, not everyone will be ready for you in life.”
And there it was.
I had a choice.
I had a choice to see not getting that job as a reflection of me. Too young, too immature, too foolish. Or, I could see it as something outside of my control – timing, others’ perceptions, biases, employment laws, whatever. But I didn’t have to take it at face value. I just had to face it. Just be disappointed, and not attach self-judgement onto it.
So many of the books I’m reading, particularly through grounded in positive psychology (such as bestsellers Mindset by Dr. Carole Dweck and Grit by Dr. Angela Duckworth), encourage us to experience disappointment. To not ‘rob’ our children of the opportunity to experience so they can figure out how to handle it.
Thank goodness for that lesson.
As an entrepreneur, I joke that I experience more rejection than I ever did dating! But hey, if there’s one keynote spot and hundreds of qualified speakers, there’s a lot of folks who won’t get it; not all of them will be disappointed. How resourceful will we be if we focus on the disappointment rather than learning from some feedback, considering other opportunities, working on a project, and so on?
The work that I do now, as a speaker and a coach, where I help people see their potential, is also about helping people to manage those times when they feel disappointed in that moment. In fact, I can trace my focus as a recognition expert and professional coach back to that first job experience. How can I help people take command of their own lives and how they experience it, even when others don’t see their potential? How can they continue to chart their own course in face of disappointment, roadblocks and disbelief?
Do you see, value, and appreciate your strengths and potential more than anyone else? Are you your own biggest, raving fan? I’m not talking narcissism. I’m talking 100% belief that disappointment is just a thing, it’s not who you are.
The other thing I learned from that first job was, ‘fit’ matters. Even if I had got that job, I wouldn’t have wanted to work in a culture like that — a culture where they laugh at people. I was always the kid, that if somebody scraped their knee, I would be the only one in the class not laughing at them. I’d be the one going to try to find band-aids, and feel absolutely mortified that people were laughing at them. I help my clients remember that they deserve to, and can find that fit, so their gifts, talents, passions and virtues are valued and utilized.
As my mom shared with me at 10, and I’ve learned countless times since, the world’s not always going to be ready for me. I’m sure you’ve found the same thing – or not ready for your innovation, your invention, your business, your mindset, your deserved promotion. Just because they’re not ready, doesn’t mean you’re not. Patience is a soothing tincture for disappointment.
What did you learn from your first real disappointment with work? How has it impacted you to this day, in a good way? Share through a comment or reply. In fact, why not share this VLOG post with someone embarking on their first job, promotion, or life phase? Help them remember the value of the disappointment because guaranteed, it won’t feel like a gift at the time!
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Be well, and be great.