How to cope with disappointment
The other day, an acquaintance told me— “I’m afraid to dream about the future. I’ve had so many disappointments in my life. I don’t want to be disappointed again.” As a psychologist, I’ve heard this sentiment many times. But when I asked him about these disappointments, he brought up events that are part of the natural course of life—the death of a loved one or changes in work life. His life hadn’t turned out the way he had imagined. When he was in his 20’s, he envisioned a different life than he is living. Now in his mid 50’s, he’s afraid to dream about the future.
It’s not uncommon for adults reaching milestone birthdays to consider where they are in their lives and where they thought they would be. Turning 30, 40, 50, 60, 65, and beyond can bring up these issues. Joe thought he would be married by 30, but he’s still single. Sarah thought she would be a vice-president in her company by 40, but is still a middle level manager. Jim thought he would still be running marathons at 50, but due to an injury, can't run at all. Bill wanted to retire at 55, but his company went out of business, and now that goal is out of reach.
Our hopes and dreams propel us on a path—sometimes single-mindedly and sometimes not. We hope that the route we choose will lead us to our goal. Yet sometimes, despite the best planning, the unforeseen twists and turns of life lead us somewhere else. The marriage we thought would last a lifetime ends in divorce. The dream job becomes a nightmare. The company we always wanted to work for goes bankrupt. These disruptions are dramatic, but also commonplace.
Sometimes the opposite occurs. As a child of divorce, I was somewhat skeptical about how marriage might work out for me. Yet, as luck would have it, I found the right person for me. We are happily married 41 years later. Having worked at a number of organizations, I was unsure about joining The Everett Clinic—but here I am 25 years later having found my dream job in a great organization!
Often, our goals are less specific—we simply want happiness and the causes of happiness. We hope that material comfort, security, love, or a house in the country will bring us contentment. But the road to these dreams can be rocky.
How do we handle these disruptions?
Expect the unexpected.
So much of life is outside of our control. Changes in society, technology, and the economy can make something large that was small, and just the opposite! Health challenges can crop up without any warning. Good or bad luck just happens. Don’t get too attached to the status quo.
Focus on resilience.
Human beings are amazing creatures. We are adaptive and able to find solutions to problems that jump out in front of us. My Aunt Midge, an advertising executive in New York, developed a condition where she could only talk in a whisper. She could no longer work at her job but found a way of making a living by selling a newsletter to other adults with her same condition. You could knock Aunt Midge down, but you couldn't keep her down. She always seemed to bounce back up.
Concentrate on what is in your control.
What we do have control over is what we do and what we say—we are in control of ourselves (hopefully!). Being the person you want to brings a sustained satisfaction that can’t be found simply by getting what you want.
Unfortunately, none of us have a book that tells us how our life will unfold. Circumstances can change on a dime. Don’t keep your life on auto-pilot—know when to take back the steering wheel and make the changes that you need to make, large or small, that bring you back in alignment with who you want to be and what you want to accomplish.