Careers are full of wonderful moments of achievement and success, but even the best ones are riddled with everyday disappointments. Jobs fall through, good colleagues quit, bad colleagues succeed. When a colleague disappoints you, you can stew in the loss, letting it fester into self-loathing and bitterness, or you can confront the unpleasant emotions head-on. Learning to handle things not going your way with work is a lifelong lesson.
Here are tips from experts on how you can handle disappointment without it crushing you flat:
Let go of what was, focus on what is
Accept that it is normal to feel disappointed after a career setback. If you are feeling jealous after a colleague gets the job you wanted, do not shame yourself for feeling an unpleasant thought. Recognize that these feelings are temporary and that you have the power to change them.
In an essay for Psychology Today, Toni Berhnhard, J.D., details how she felt let down by a friend after the friend fell in love and their friendship drifted apart. “I didn’t want things to be different for her, but at the same time, I longed for things to be the way they’d once been between us,” Bernhard writes. She found that some of her conflicting reactions —getting angry, feeding fear and stewing in self-blame — were unhelpful. What helped her move on from the disappointment was learning to reframe her thinking. Instead of holding onto the idea of a relationship that had changed, she learned to let go and accept the relationship for what it now was. Accepting that relationships are fluid and can change for the better or worse is what can help you make peace with a situation.
“When I’m able to recognize that desires are ever-present but are often unfulfilled, I’m better able to free myself from the prison of desires and make peace with my life as it is,” she writes. Once you accept that a relationship has changed, you are living in the present moment and can focus on what you can do next, such as “continuing with the relationship but changing your expectations, working to enrich your other relationships, or reaching out to new people,” as Bernhard advises.
Put the disappointment in perspective
When you take a step back from your storm cloud of emotions, you can put the disappointment in perspective. Once you see this moment as a lesson in a long arc instead of as an overwhelming personal failure, you can look deeper into why you are feeling disappointment. You can listen to what this uneasy feeling is signaling about your career desires.
Take it from Oprah Winfrey who knows how to make a successful career story out of failure. “There is a supreme moment of destiny calling on your life. Your job is to feel that, to hear that, to know that. And sometimes when you’re not listening, you get taken off track. You get in the wrong marriage, the wrong relationship, you take the wrong job, but it’s all leading to the same path. There are no wrong paths,” media mogul Oprah Winfrey told a group of Stanford Graduate School of Business students. “Failure is just that thing trying to move you in another direction.”
If you are feeling terrible after a job offer falls through, take this alarm bell as a signal on what you can do next. “The losses are there to wake you up,” Winfrey said. “When you understand that, you don’t allow yourself to be completely thrown by a grade or by a circumstance, because your life is bigger than any one experience.”
Test the fictions you are telling yourself
Instead of running away from your discomfort, confront it by testing the assumptions within the story you are telling yourself. You may find that you are jumping to conclusions about a situation not warranted by fact.
If we feel that a colleague is brushing us off and ignoring us, we can jump to the worst conclusion —”They hate us! They are out to get us!”— or we can reflect on what we know for sure and what are we making up. Testing assumptions is what social scientist Dr. Brené Brown advises us to do when we are making sense of our hurts. “I’m not enough,” Brown said that most limiting narratives boil down to at their core.
Instead of throwing up our hands in defeat, we can take action by interrogating the stories we tell ourselves. Get curious about why you are feeling let down. Ask yourself how you can learn more about this situation. Feeling disappointment, though unpleasant in the moment, can be a unique opportunity to address needs and concerns as they arise.