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Managing Disappointment in Business

The natural inclination for humans including leaders is to aspire, to want, to achieve. Whether this is in one’s job, career, business, relationship and or sporting and community life, we are motivated by the pull of what is appealing and rewarding to us. These hopes and desires keep us motivated and energized.

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The natural inclination for humans including leaders is to aspire, to want, to achieve. Whether this is in one’s job, career, business, relationship and or sporting and community life, we are motivated by the pull of what is appealing and rewarding to us. These hopes and desires keep us motivated and energized.

But we don’t always get what we want. Even for those in leadership positions, the promotion or job slips away, the relationship one had banked everything on turns sour and even our health, which we had taken for granted suddenly reveals to us our vulnerability.

We are left shocked, angry, vulnerable with thoughts like, “this is not how it was meant to be”, how did it go so wrong?” to “ I did not deserve this” or as a senior executive put it, “this is not my life.” No doubt you will have your own version of this. Socially we are meant to be upbeat and certainly no one appreciates a permanent grouch.

So what do we do? How do we deal with disappointments whether they are in the form of a loss, rejection, disappointment or failure?

The first step is to acknowledge exactly how you are feeling. Your feelings are legitimate be they sadness, sorrow, anger, a sense of lost opportunity, frustration, self-doubt and or depression. Self awareness, appropriate self-expression and self management are keys here.

Rather than hold on to disappointment with its underlying feeling of “what is wrong with me?” we need to embrace disappointment; warts and all and see it more in the light of “stuff happens.” By acknowledging these feelings you are giving it its rightful place and this will enable you to work through things and move on. Taking ownership and responsibility helps; blame doesn’t.

Secondly you may wish to just pause and re-group. The goal you had set for yourself – business, leadership or otherwise – is that relevant and meaningful for you? Is it worth another go? Do you need to let it go or reframe it in a different way?

Hand in hand with this, adopt a dispassionate, objective and analytical view. What went wrong? Which bits were in your control and which were not? An exercise I do often with my clients is to draw up a list of can control and can’t control. Very quickly, it becomes clear that worrying about things out of one’s control is foolhardy and needlessly torturous.

Disappointment is a teacher – try to learn from its sometimes harsh lessons. What will you do differently? Endless learning is what enriches our journey making us more compassionate and rounded as human beings.

Thirdly keep going. One of the gifts of being human is not that we lose but how we pick ourselves up and go forward. Losing courageously is just as important is winning victoriously. The other wondrous gift is that we have been given is that of hope. After all, what is life without hope? In the words of Martin Luther King Jnr, “we must accept finite disappointment, but never loose infinite hope.”

It is a good thing that tomorrow is yet another day and if we are still around, we get to give things yet another try!

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