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The Value of Disappointment

Image of toddler sleeping in a chair. Raleigh Psychotherapy, Counseling, disappointment, Katherine Broadway

“When there’s a big disappointment, we don’t know if that’s the end of the story. It may be just the beginning of a great adventure.” - Pema Chodron

Pema Chodron was an ordinary woman with a conventional life and marriage. She was not particularly happy, but she believed that happiness would come from being a wife and mother. That is, until her husband announced that he wanted a divorce. It was the most devastating moment of her life; she was deeply disappointed.

At 50 years old, Nick was given an opportunity to become a partner in a startup company. He had worked for years for this, and he had a plan: work for this company for 10 years and retire early with the money he made. He had confidence in the venture because he had worked at another successful company with John, the man who was starting the company. They had a board of directors who were supportive of their vision.

Two years later, John was released from his contract because the board was not happy with his performance. Six months later, Nick was released for the same reason. He was disappointed because his dream did not come true. He was a high achiever and had never been released from a job.

Being disappointed is as much a part of life as breathing; it is unavoidable. As parents we do all we can to protect our children from disappointment. We go to great lengths to avoid it, yet, it is a valuable experience. For our children, it builds resiliency and develops an internal strength that says, “I can survive and overcome adversity and setbacks.” For adults, disappointment can actually provide us with opportunities.

Five Opportunities That Result From Disappointment

1. Disappointment stops us in our tracks:

There are times in our lives when we are so entrenched in our beliefs about what will bring us safety and happiness that we cannot see another way. It takes an external event to stop our struggle and help us try a new path.

2. Disappointment encourages us to examine our expectations:

Society is filled with many messages that say each one of us can have it all, be the best, and achieve more than anyone else. These messages are not true, and we are not super human. Unfortunately, we are also led to believe that if we are not the best, we are not good enough. It is a setup for unrealistic expectations and constant disappointment.

Often, these expectations are developed unconsciously. When we experience disappointment, it is a wake-up call to those thoughts. We can look at how we have consciously or unconsciously developed these unrealistic expectations.

3. Disappointment helps us to ask ourselves what we need to learn and where we need to grow:

Life is about growth and learning. However, in the daily business of life, it is easy to lose ourselves and overlook the areas in our life that need to change. We miss the lessons we need to learn. This leads to vague feelings of unease which, when examined, will reveal depression, restlessness and a feeling of emptiness. These feelings are easy to miss when we focus outwardly on the “necessities of life.”

4. Disappointment teaches us to wait:

In Siddhartha by Herman Hesse, the main character leaves the comfort of his life to take a journey of self-discovery. Along the way, he experiences disappointment, and through these experiences he learns to wait and listen.

Disappointment usually leaves us in a state of not knowing what to do next. Being able to wait and listen will help us see the next step for us to take.

5. Disappointment allows you to understand the value that comes to us in every experience:

If we take the time to pay attention and be mindful, we can look at the whole picture of our life and see the value of all our experiences.

Remember Pema Chodron? Out of her husband's desire for a divorce, she began a journey of self-discovery. She became the first American Buddhist nun, an author and a spiritual leader. Years later, Chodron said she sees the end of her marriage as one of the most profound experiences of her life. Her marriage was falling apart and she was trying desperately to save it. She was not particularly happy, but she was focused on her belief that security would bring happiness. She could not see that she was depending on external circumstances to make her happy. Her disappointment lead to the changes that brought her to find strength and happiness inside.

Nick went through a period of unemployment where he investigated several different options. Did he want to buy his own business? Did he want to change career paths? Should he consider early retirement? As he waited, looked inside of himself and sought opportunities, he found a job in a leadership role with a well-established company where he was valued for his experience, intelligence and creativity. He realized that in his old job, he had become so focused on saving his company that he was unable to see how much the current situation had been hurting him. He likes his current job more than any he has ever had.

In the words of Pema Chodron, “Happiness means getting to know disappointment.” Disappointment is painful and takes time to sort through, but it has the possibility of leading you to a better place in life.

I can help you look at your disappointment and see more clearly where it might lead you. Call me at: (919)881-2001.

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