Recently, I found out that a work project that I’d spent weeks preparing for wasn’t going to happen. The opportunity was scrapped for reasons out of my control, and when the news dropped into my inbox, I immediately felt that familiar pit deep in my stomach that always seems to accompany true disappointment. (Also, how weird is it that the gut is so connected to our emotions? But I digress…) In that moment, I had a choice: I could attempt to avoid future disappointment by “not getting my hopes up” (i.e. the self-protection instincts that we frequently employ but rarely actually work), or I could allow myself to feel the disappointment, accept that I can’t win ’em all, and take a few learnings from the experience. Then, move on.
photo via jacqueline mikuta
You know what’s funny? That pit in my stomach didn’t last long. Whereas a few years ago I would have gone home and replayed the events through a sleepless and tear-filled night, this time I was able to look at the situation from a wider perspective. I was able to see that yes, I had missed out on a great opportunity, but there will be more of those in my future. I reminded myself that for those of us who dare to chase big dreams, some of our efforts will be huge successes and others won’t work out the way we plan. And most of all, I was comforted when I shared my disappointments with a trusted group of family and friends who magically understood just what my heart needed in that moment.
A couple years ago I wrote a post about How to Cope with Disappointment, and today I wanted to take it a step further to examine how disappointment can actually be a blessing in our lives – with surprising benefits that can come from it. Read on for what I’ve learned, and I’d love to hear about your experiences in the comments.
Disappointment strengthens our resiliency.
Resiliency, the incredibly important ability to recover quickly from difficulty, is like a physical muscle that has to be stressed in order to grow stronger. When we heal from the strain we’ve put on our muscles, they grow back tougher and more able to handle greater amounts of stress in the future. Similarly, when we go through disappointing situations, we may feel weakened in the moment, but if we forge ahead and try again instead of retreating into our fears, those disappointments can actually be enable us to achieve great things in the future.
Disappointment gives us empathy.
After being in a severe car accident several years ago, I spent a few weeks in the hospital. For the first time in my life, I was able to truly understand what it feels like to be in the role of “patient,” completely reliant on others for everything. And that’s the thing about empathy: you have to go through the fire to really know what it feels like (I know, it’s kind of a bummer.) I’ve noticed that when I experience disappointments in my own life, I walk away from the situation more equipped to truly empathize with others when they need my support.
photo via hello fashion
Disappointment makes us grateful.
When I received that email carrying disappointing news, I sat with my own thoughts for about 15 minutes, then I called my mom, texted my bestie, and had a long chat with my husband over dinner at home. That night as my head hit the pillow, I felt myself actually smiling with gratitude for the support of my squad. Nothing feels better than knowing that the people who love you have truly got your back, and sometimes we have to go through hard times in order for them to show it. My family helped me remember not to take everything personally, told me how proud they were of me, and then made me laugh with their crazy commentary on the situation. Just what I needed in that moment.
It’s inevitable that we’re all going to experience disappointment many, many times in our lives, but the beautiful thing is that we have a choice in how we respond. Will we embrace it as an opportunity to develop more humility and empathy? Just think: when our own plans for the future don’t work out the way we wanted, it could actually end up being one of the best opportunities ever.