“Disappointment to a noble soul is what cold water is to burning metal; it strengthens, tempers, intensifies, but never destroys it.” – Eliza Tabor
Over the course of your life you will encounter many disappointments. Sometimes it will be a loved one who let’s you down. Sometimes it will be a work deal or a business meeting that doesn’t go as planned. Other times it will seem as if the whole universe is kicking you in the head just because it can.
If you want to live a happy and fulfilled life you need to learn how to deal with life’s disappointments. In this post I am going to talk about a few strategies that you can use next time you feel let down.
Are your expectations realistic?
One of the first things you need to look at when you are feeling disappointed is whether or not your expectations were realistic. I want to tell you something that might sound quite radical:
It is your expectations that create your disappointment. Nothing else.
That’s right. It is your expectations that create the fertile ground for your disappointments to flourish. Although it might seem like your business partner let you down by not coming up with the goods it was, in actual fact, your expectations that led you to believe that this event would not occur.
The next time you feel disappointed by some situation I want you to take a few moments to look into your mind. Examine the situation and start to think about whether or not your expectations were realistic. I think you will find that, in almost all situations, your big disappointments will be caused by unrealistic expectations.
Should I have no expectations?
If you start to realize that your expectations are partly to blame it is natural to then think that perhaps you should have no expectations whatsoever. This is an interesting point that I would like to hear some discussion on as I am not completely sure of the answer myself. Should we have zero expectations or should we just try to be more realistic?
Is your reaction realistic?
One thing I have noticed over the years is that my own mind is quite unrealistic when it comes to reacting to disappointment. Let me give you an example.
A few years ago I was in University doing a Business Degree in Commercial Law. During this degree we often had to form groups of two or three people in order to complete assignments. And over the years I had developed a consistent and fervent hatred of these group assignments – so much so that when the group project was announced at the start of the semester I would often groan out a loud.
The reason I hated these assignments was because I was always the one who ended up doing the work. People knew that I was keen to get good grades and as such they exploited that knowing that there was no way I was not going to pick up their slack.
One semester I was partnered with a girl from Hong Kong who was studying as an international student. We were doing a marketing assignment based on over six months of research and had to give a 20 minute presentation in the last week of class. The problem? She went AWOL the week before the presentation. No email. No note. Nothing. Gone.
I was livid. I wrote to the course coordinator but he said I would have to present by myself. I fumed for days and days and days. Literally. Everyone I talked to I mentioned how rotten this girl was. I told everyone how she left me high and dry to the point that I probably tarnished her name quite a bit.
Finally, a few days before the presentation, she came back. She looked dreadful. Her eyes were sunken and she looked really sick. She had just been diagnosed with cancer. She had been away from University because she had a breakdown.
I felt horrible. I still do.
Sometimes our reactions to disappointments are unrealistic. I went around campus badmouthing this girl because of a stupid marketing assignment! I worked myself up into a rage-filled ball of anger for days and days and in the end it turned out she was really sick. It was not her fault.
The next time you feel disappointed by someone make sure you check to see whether your reaction is justified. Did the person try their best? Did they really mean to hurt you? Is your frustration really necessary? Most of the times the answer is a resounding “no”.
Are you looking on the bright side?
The most important point of all when discussing the issue of disappointments is that it provides you with an opportunity to grow. Disappointments are life’s little testers – you can either let them break you down or you can use them as a tool for change.
Buddha and the bright side of disappointment
Let’s look at a concrete example from the life of Buddha Shakyamuni. After the Prince set off to begin his quest for enlightenment he spent several years living as a hardcore yogi. During these years the Buddha spent most of his time fasting and sitting in one place without moving.
One day, however, the Price realized that this extreme path was not going to bare any fruit and so he gave up that life in search of something more effective. He had spent years mastering a style of meditation that was not going to work.
Now most of us would view this as “wasted time”. We would curse the fact that we spent all those years and didn’t achieve anything. But the Prince moved on to new things. He knew that the time wasn’t wasted because without that work he would never have progressed to the next stage. Without it he would never have become the great man that has changed the lives of hundreds of millions throughout history.
Using disappointment to grow
We need to be more like the Buddha. We need to see disappointment as one step in a series of many that is leading to bigger and better things. If you choose to dwell on disappointment and curse the day that it happened you are going to get stuck. The wise use it as a catalyst for change.
I truly believe that the feeling of being let down by your partner or your Government or your work is a time to grow and change. I also feel that most of the time we ourselves are at least 50% to blame. I would love to hear your stories of disappointment and how you used that time in your life to either move forward or backwards. Please leave a comment and share with our community.