Disappointment requires you to become vulnerable.  In relationships, when someone acts selfishly or antagonistically, you have opened yourself up to disappointment. You studied for weeks before a big exam and still made a mediocre (or failing) grade, you’ve made yourself vulnerable. You apply for a big position, interviewed, and were rejected. Disappointment.

Disappointment is a harsh and sometimes shameful emotion. It eliminates the joy from your day and makes events you would normally gloomier. If you’re like me, it affects how you do things in the future. I try to make myself as invulnerable as possible by not applying to new projects, by not working harder, by going with lazy instead of grit.

But life teaches us that disappointment isn’t forever. I read a study a while back that said that people who had suddenly become disabled and people who had won the lottery were likely to be at the same happiness level. Of course, this includes a spike where they were deliriously happy or suicidal and sad, but eventually these two groups were indistinguishable from one another.

Disappointment is crushing, but you can bounce back from it. You can even avoid it entirely. Here's how:

1.     Write out your feelings.

In a quiet place, whether it’s your bedroom or the library, write down exactly what has disappointed you.

If a friend has wronged you in a way, write: Friend G disappointed me by not inviting me to go to a party with her when she invited Friend H, and Friend H lives with me. I thought we were closer than this.

If an exam has you hanging your head, write: I didn’t understand the core concepts of Accounting 967 so I didn’t study the right things and got an F.

If a work has done you wrong, write: I blew my interview by not preparing enough.

This makes you write it out, in detail, what has gone wrong in your life and made you disappointed in yourself or others.

Now you’re thinking about it again. Damn.

2.     Explain to yourself how the disappointment happened.

To take the example of the work disappointment further, here is what I would write (and this is personal experience):

I didn’t practice questions they would ask me with my S.O. or with myself. I was unprepared when they asked me questions because of this. They also asked easy questions that are in all typical interviews and I had mediocre to poor answers. This makes it even more disappointing, because I could have easily prevented it.

Pinpoint exactly what went wrong and where.

If you’re like me and just finished writing that, you probably feel silly and still disappointed.

3.     Reflect

Now that you have pinpointed exactly where things went wrong, hopefully with your actions, then go for a walk and think about these things. Don’t restrain your thoughts, don’t limit yourself. If you stop thinking about the disappointment and start focusing on something else, do that for a little and then bring yourself back around to the disappointment.

Ponder how you feel. Wonder about where you went wrong beforehand, during, and after. Recreate the situation in your mind and decide what the best action would have been.  Think about the future and how likely it is to come up again.

Think about your feelings for this company or any people involved. If forgiveness doesn’t come easy, don’t try to forgive. If you decide something while you’re walking, you’re free to change that decision later. Nothing is solid here. It’s all in your head.

This process may take a few days, so you may feel better by the end of it. It may feel like a release and you may not think about it again at all. Great!

You may make a decision you don’t feel good about. You may still feel terrible. These things happen, but this time has given you a few hours or days to distance yourself from the situation. Life happens even while you’re disappointed.

4.     Action Steps

This is the time for you to make a decision or let go.  For me, this included:

  • Applying for an opportunity I really wanted (which I got!)
  • Redoing my resume.
  • Search for opportunities to make a difference or work in teams, so I can have more teamwork-related answers when those questions are put to me again.
  • Review the answers I provided in the interview that were great questions, and write down how I could make my answers better the next time.

This not only takes your mind off your disappointment, but provides you with a great opportunity to refine yourself (whether in your head or on paper) and put those steps into action. From this, I picked up a law school book from the library and felt better because the interview was for a company that I didn’t necessarily want to work for. Just think, I saved them money and saved myself from feeling like I owed them something if I had received the internship, because that wasn’t my career goal at all.

This will work in all situations. Use creativity. If you have to confront people and tell them their actions hurt you, do it in a way that helps your friendship. If you made a bad grade, this helps you make a schedule so that it won’t happen again. Since you took that first exam, you now know what the professor looks for in an answer. 

I can't tell you that you'll feel better. I can't tell you that your problems will magically disappear, especially if it's a reoccurring one. 

What I can tell you is that it gets better. In a few weeks or months, you will feel better. It will be less of a trauma and more of a guiding experience that will allow you to problem solve easier in the future.

Open yourself up to being disappointed. Be vulnerable in all things you do, because that's when amazing opportunities come around the corner and punch you in the gut.

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    October 2013


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