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What I ordered vs What I got: 6 ways to handle disappointment and setbacks

So the outcome wasn't what you expected and you’re left angry, frustrated, anxious, sad… and disappointed. Perhaps you’re blaming yourself, replaying the scene repeatedly in your head, trying to figure out what went wrong and what you could have done better. Dealing with disappointment is certainly a challenging feat. It’s quite normal to struggle with, and feel overwhelmed by, the negative feelings that come with setbacks but here are some tips on how you can navigate through periods of disappointment.

Image of yellow flowers coming out of a broken mug
Credit: Pexels/Feyza Daştan

1. Take time to reflect

It helps to first acknowledge your disappointment and give yourself time to make sense of what went wrong. Denying or pretending, in the name of ‘moving on’ quickly, won’t help and can actually make things worse. It's also important to note that there are situations that are out of your control, even when a significant amount of effort is applied. You need to differentiate between such situations and the factors that were within your control because this will help you put things in perspective and manage your frustrations rightly.

During this time of reflection, consider whether your expectations were reasonable. Were your expectations too high and difficult to achieve considering the time you had, your current abilities or the resources at your disposal? Or were your expectations too low in the first place, as you embraced limiting beliefs such as “I am not good enough” or “It never works out anyways, so why bother”? Approaching this constructively really helps to see if our actions, or lack thereof, may have ‘invited’ the disappointing situation and what to improve on next time.

2. Embrace feedback

Embracing feedback may be one of the hardest things to do after failing at something you put your heart and soul into, but it's incredibly important to know what could have been done differently. This is what makes the healing process constructive and not destructive.

Disappointments are unfortunately inevitable but if taken in stride, they can be the blessings you never saw coming. You’ve probably heard the phrase “Success is built upon a pile of failures” and as hard as it is to accept, it’s quite true!

That’s why there’s no such thing as “overnight success” because success is progressive. You get better and stronger with every mistake, detour and mishap.

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Credit: Pexels/Alexander Suhorucov

3. Let it go…

You’ve reflected on everything that has happened and have approached it constructively… It is now time to let it go. Trust me, this is easier said than done and we’ve all been there!

Don't you ever wish you could just breathe out all the anger, sadness, frustration and anxieties that come with disappointing circumstances, out of your system at once?

It’s truly not a simple process but you also can’t let your disappointment linger on for too long.

I think what really helps to facilitate the process of moving forward is to focus on the positives. For example, you didn't get the grades you wanted and can’t go to the university of your choice. A positive side of this may be having the chance to study in a different part of the country you previously didn’t consider and getting to make new friends - at least that’s what happened in my case and I’m (now) forever grateful for the blessing of studying elsewhere!

Or maybe you didn't get the job you wanted. But upon reviewing the feedback given, you now know what not to do, so you can ace the following interview! There are positive sides to disappointments. You just may need to squint and look closely to see it! And other times, it is further down the line that you see the blessing in what happened.

4. Do something you enjoy

I wish I could tell you that the negative feelings will instantly fade away as soon as you decide to let it go. But you and I both know that it can take some time.

A helpful tip during this time is to do something you enjoy. Sometimes a change in environment can really help, so maybe take a short trip. It doesn't have to be an expensive one, you can simply take a train ride to a place you’ve never been to. Or you could go out to watch a movie, take walks, bake/cook something you’ve never eaten before, learn a new skill, sign up for a Zumba dance class, anything! Just do something new and fun.

Photo of three women taking a selfie and smiling
Credit: Pexels/Ketut Subiyanto

5. Surround yourself with your Tribe

Community is so important in times like this. Surrounding yourself with loved ones that give you the space to cry (or laugh!) and express your feelings, without judgment, can really make a difference. And if you’re yet to have a community like this, you can still surround yourself with positive and encouraging voices virtually! It’s times like this that I plug into uplifting content in the form of books, sermons or songs that remind me of the greatness within me, particularly when I don't feel very great in those moments.

6. Try again or do something different... Just don’t stop.

Now that you’ve approached your disappointment constructively, it's time to take the bold step of either trying again or taking a different route.

There are many examples of people that refused to park at the place of their failure and chose to keep going. One example that never ceases to amaze me is the late US president, Abraham Lincoln.

  • After failing in business, he ran for state legislature and lost.

  • He also lost his job that same year and wanted to go to law school, but could not get in.

  • The following year, he attempted to start another business that eventually failed, leaving him bankrupt. He supposedly spent the next 17 years paying off his debt.

  • In 1835, he was engaged to be married but his fiancé died, and he suffered a nervous breakdown the following year that left him bed-bound.

  • After a rigorous period of self-teaching, he eventually obtained his law license in 1836.

  • He ran for Congress in 1843 and lost.

  • Ran for Congress again 5 years later and lost.

  • In 1854, he ran for the U.S. Senate and lost.

  • 2 years later, he hoped to be nominated for the vice-presidential position and failed.

  • In 1858, he ran for the U.S. Senate again and lost before finally being elected in 1860 as the president of the United States.

I’m so amazed by his tenacity. The only way I can imagine him enduring all he went through was him approaching every setback constructively and learning from his errors. One of his famous quotes is:

“I walk slowly but I never walk backward”.

This is a trait I hope we’ll all embrace and who knows? It might be your name I’ll be referring to next time, among the list of great women at the top of their field, who decided not to give up despite the many hurdles thrown at them.

You really can do this and we’re rooting for you!

Until next time!

Success Fabusoro (Blog writer)

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