Disappointment Sucks. So, Now What? September 27 2013

therapistYesterday I found what is already one of my all time favorite New Yorker cartoons. I pulled the current issue out of the mailbox, started flipping through it and saw the classic guy on a therapist’s couch. The caption was “I did seize the day. But then it seized me back and used some kind of jujitsu move to flip me on my ass.”

I laughed out loud as I read it because I had just spent the day getting back up after getting flipped on my ass. Early in the morning, I’d gotten some critical feedback I didn’t expect on an important project. I was really disappointed. Disappointed with my performance, disappointed with my misperception and disappointed with the recognition that something that I thought was working well actually wasn’t.

Disappointment is a fact of life. Unless you’re on Facebook where, unless a pet or a relative has died, everything is always sunny, in real world land, disappointment happens.

Disappointment sucks. It can bring you down. As a leader, you can’t afford to stay there very long. You’ve got to get back up and bring everyone else along with you.

How do you do it? Here are four steps that may work for you (And by you, I mean me. I’m working on taking my own advice.) :

Go for a walk – Seriously, go take a walk. Do something physical. Get out of your head before you drive yourself into a mental ditch of woe. Shake it off. Don’t sit there and dwell on it

Quit wishing – “I wish I’d known then what I know now. I wish I had done this or that differently.” Yeah, all of that would have been great, but you didn’t. Notice that all of that is past tense? That tells you something. It tells you that you can’t change what’s already happened. Quit wishing.

Talk it out with a trusted advisor – There’s a reason that talk therapy has been around so long – it helps. You don’t have to go to a therapist when you experience a disappointment, but you should talk about it with someone you trust. Doing so has at least two benefits. It helps you work through the emotional curve and identify the lessons learned as you do.

Get back on your horse and ride – Now we’re talking present and future tense. What can you do now or in the near future to recover or repair whatever can be recovered or repaired? What have you learned from this experience that teaches you what to change to get better outcomes in the future? This is where the upside comes from. The opposite of disappointment is resilience. (TWEET THIS) That’s where leaders live. Get back on your horse.

Speaking of therapy, writing this post has been therapeutic for me. Thanks for reading this far and joining in. What about you? What was useful here? What do you do to move past disappointment?

8 Responses to “Disappointment Sucks. So, Now What?”

  1. Lori says:

    Oh I just had one of these moments as well! I did (1) take a walk while (2) kicking myself (wishing I had done things differently). (3) Talking it out with my trusted colleagues was even better than I hoped – we had a wonderful and laugh filled conversation, it made me feel so much better, and ready to accomplish step (4.) A few days later I did one more thing – wrote down my own "lessons learned" so that I don't ever make the same mistakes again!
    Thank you for reminding me we all have these moments.

  2. skyhookmktg says:

    Mark Goulsten, author of "Just Listen" provided me with a framework that has been helpful to me with disappointment. He calls it the "Oh crap, Oh no, Oh well, OK" process. First we acknowledge aloud that something bad has happened and vent about it for a bit ("Oh crap") and we acknowledge all of the bad things that have happened or will happen because of it ("Oh no"). But then we move into an "acceptance" phase where we realize that what's done is done ("Oh well") and ultimately start making plans to move forward ("OK").

    Another thing that has worked for me is to switch gears for a few minutes and say "What do I feel like doing right now?" Sometimes that means going to get a milkshake. Sometimes that means working on some small task I've been wanting to do but haven't had time for. Just something to get my mind right.

  3. Larry Center says:

    Another approach, just like when we make mistakes, is to ask "What can I learn from this disappointment?" By taking the learning perspecrive, we can turn what may have been a negative experience into a long-term positive experience. The insights we gain from asking "What can I learn from this?" will benefit us many times over in future situations. Of course, it takes real maturity to get past the initial frustration and muster the courage to ask ourselves that "learning" question.
    -Larry Center

  4. in many cases the human mind has a way of recording over it's afflictions, it's called healing, and for me the best way is indeed, physical relocation of some sort from any of the familiar surroundings, any where that is not familiar to the space that may have any links to the ' disappointment ' be it a long long walk into the country or by the sea or even having a smoke on a public seat listening to old ladies talking shite but they got what I don't have in that moment and that's a smile on my face .. ' the first step to breaking down the barriers of ' why me '.. etc .. ' there is something about the unforgiving nature of mother nature and her surroundings that will bring you to a point of acceptance within …… a hug, from a loved one …. from a passed on loved one too ….. if you have a pet play with it … if you got face comedy on TV watch it … fave music , bring it along with you on your walk … just get the hell out and keep moooving!! … energy relocates it'self before we have time to even comprehend we have just been taken to the next level of a lesson in life …. and we NEED to move on ……..


  5. The suggestions above are definitely good ones to temporally shift the energy of disappointment. However, it is just superficial change unless the person (especially leaders) find the learning lessons in the disappointing event and reframe the meaning they gave to it.

    Where so many fall short with disappointment is that they identify themselves with the disappointment and/or the behavior or thinking that drove it … rather than view the outcome as separate than themselves. Eg., if I screw up with a client engagement and get critical feedback, it's easy to personalize it within themselves (e.g.., "I am a failure." or "I am not valued." etc.).

    Generative change within leaders can only come when they are able to separate their sense of themselves from the disappointment, learn the lesson and reframe their perception about what it means. By building that inner muscle, disappointment becomes a feedback mechanism over which we have control.

    Denise Corcoran http://www.EmpoweredBusiness.com

  6. Melbourne Chap says:

    This blog could not have come at a better time for me. I have just dealt with a gut wrenching blow in a professional sense, and it is still very fresh, and it hurts a lot with a lot of the 'If only' statements going around. I have already instinctively done some of the suggestions in the article and the blog such as taking a walk and doing something completely out of the blue, talk to a trusted colleague etc . I think the next step for me will be to view this process from the balcony rather than the dancefloor and try to apply an objective learning process to the situation, identifying what went well, what could have been done better and what will be done differently. Well done bloggers, appreciate your commentary.

  7. John Browning says:

    Great article.

  8. Jephtah Jumbo, J. says:

    My trick to overcoming a disappointive mental disposition is to practive active awareness approach to situations.

    I remind myself that the incident is only a path to perfect my character and that there is an inportant lesson that woulf help me become a better person.

    My three step approach is:

    1. Isolation: I isolate myself from noise, external disturbance and sit alone for a few minutes, to calm down and focus on delineating my biased mental models.

    2. I re-examine the order of succession of events, to see what I hadn’t seen earlier, to see clearly my mistakes, impossibilities and alternate scenarios to the event.

    3. I learn the lesson to be learnt and devise a plan on how to cope with the situation and move on with life.

    The key is perception. How one perceives, and what one perceives, is important.

Dismiss ×

Get Scott Eblin’s monthly leadership insights

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.