Service of Disappointment

April 6th, 2010

Categories: Attitude, Disappointment, Positive Thinking, Rejection

disappointmentHad Butler beaten Duke in last night’s NCAA 2010 Championship Tournament it would have been grand. Few had heard of Butler before the game while Duke, the top rated team, is a well known college.

butler1Now millions have heard of Butler, but the team, three last minute points from victory, must nevertheless be disappointed. None will forget the season and hopefully most will take pride in what they and their 33 year old coach, Brad Stevens, did for a little-known school: They put it on the map.

As reported in The Wall Street Journal, some of the country’s most successful people–Warren Buffett, Ted Turner, Meredith Vieira, Tom Brokaw, Harold Varmus, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center president and Nobel laureate–suffered disappointment when they weren’t admitted to the colleges of their choice, wrote Sue Shellenbarger in “Before They Were Titans, Moguls and Newsmakers, These People Were…Rejected.”  

These luminaries clearly remember the rejection but didn’t let it trip them up. Like a leak in a brick house, they were intent on making their marks one or another way and nobody and nothing stood in their way.

scholarshipwinnersWhen the New York Women in Communications Foundation scholarship committee asks student applicants about how they handled a disappointment their answers, if memorable, can help them win a generous scholarship. Eligible students range from high school senior through graduate school.

When you work with volunteers you’d best adjust your expectations, be prepared to be disappointed or to do all the work. When I was president of an industry association, the volunteer board member in charge of marketing sat on a fabulous initiative that I couldn’t wait to launch. On the one hand, I knew that nobody would remember if it happened on my watch and that it would eventually get done. On the other hand, over-nudging this person–who took advantage of the fact that he was my client–wasn’t an option. It happened the next year.

I have friends who never forget a slight, a rejection, any situation that doesn’t turn their way. They might say that I’m the denial queen, but I have learned to forget. For example, it took me forever to come up with the example above and when I mentioned this to my husband he reeled off a zillion other disappointments, such as losses of major clients. I’d actually put the lot out of my mind.

Depending on the situation, it might take me years to forget a disappointment and I might actually be affected in ways I don’t recognize. When I happen to revisit the mental black and blue mark left by a disappointment I am amazingly relieved when touching it no longer hurts, although sometimes I’m surprised if the memory, no longer in my face, still gets a rise out of me. Of one thing I’m certain: Dwelling on a disappointment doesn’t serve any purpose. 

How do you handle disappointments? Have you used any to your benefit?


8 Responses to “Service of Disappointment”

  1. Jeremiah Said:


    In answer to your first question: I handle disappointments terribly. In answer to your second: I have never found rejection to be a benefit.

    On the other hand, General George Washington lost battle after battle and had disappointment after disappointment in the abysmal way many of the people upon whom he depended treated him. Yet, most extraordinarily, he won a remarkable war almost singlehandedly. Abraham Lincoln similarily suffered, perhaps even worse. And Winston Churchill had more failures in one life than any 10 of his peers in 10 lives. Franklin Roosevelt, crippled and ill, ruled the country, perhaps not always well, but with an absolute authoritarian certainty that no President before or after him has exercised.

    Almost all great men have an intuitive understanding of history and time–the vast difference between short range strategies and long range goals. They understand a single failed attempt at some strategy does not necessarily mean that an enterprise won’t succeed over time. Yet they also grasp Shakespeare’s dictum, “That for want of a nail, the kingdom was lost.”

    What an interesting subject, and a useful one too, at a time of high unemployment.


  2. Jeanne Byington Said:


    Your comment makes clear that it takes toughness to be great, an ability not to sweat the small stuff and to put disappointments, no matter how large, into perspective so they don’t become bolder-sized hurdles.

    Actors, singers, artists and musicians have always had to carry themselves as though everything is peachy and they have never felt happier in spite of consistent rejection and disappointment. Politicians need asbestos-thick skin to survive. And now, as you aptly note, people looking for work and for business must learn to protect themselves accordingly and carry on regardless.

  3. EAM Said:


    Around the job search, I’ve learned to deal with disappointment sometimes more successfully than other times. The key is not to get attached or feel like “you’re the only one” for the job. I would say that there’s usually more than one ideal candidate for the job. And, you just really need to believe that if that job isn’t the right fit, there’s another one that will be a better fit. Sometimes though we cannot always convince hiring managers that we are perfect for the position because we come from a different background etc. but our skills are transferrable. At some point, I would say that when you find someone who’s willing to take a chance and prove them right, it’s an incredible feeling.

  4. JBS Said:

    I would imagine that the average person faces some disappointments almost every day. I was upset today because I had trouble sleeping last night and I was tired. I had to go out and it was pouring. None of this kept me from hearing my grandson, Tyler, 14, do solo improvisations on his sax during a jazz concert. Later we took him out to celebrate his birthday (actually last Saturday) and I think that for the first time, we actually filled him up.

    So we all deal regularly with the little disappointments. It’s the big ones that are difficult.

    Fortunately, for most of us, they don’t happen too often. They can be an injury that limits our lives, like the broken leg I have now. It put me in a wheelchair for 12 weeks but next week I should get the brace off, so I do see the light at the end of the tunnel.

    I lost my job twice, once in the bad economy of the mid-80s and once when I was 64. Besides making me disappointed (in the people who made those decisions as well as in my own position), I was angry. I find you can only take a few days for the anger, and then you need to start looking first for a job, but second for something to fill your time while you are looking. Read books, you might learn something; sleep late so you can stay up and watch the late shows you missed when you were working; volunteer to do some work for a charity; and most important while you shouldn’t forget it, don’t think about job hunting all the time either.

    Death of a loved one is another difficult disappointment, likely the worst you will face. You have to mourn, that is part of the process that leads to recovery. But while you are mourning, think about all the wonderful things that person brought to your life and the life of others, things that no doubt will go on, long after he or she is gone.

    Don’t be afraid to talk to that person either, you’ll find their answers in your head. They don’t come back as ghosts, but they do come back, sometimes when you are wondering how to solve a problem, and suddenly you realize the most obvious answer was there all the time. You’ll think, “I wonder where that answer came from?” It might be from your Dad who taught you about cars, your Mom who taught you to cook, or your favorite instructor who taught your favorite class in high school or college. People never really die, they live on in us. And we never forget them or what they taught us. Even more important, we see many of their talents and characteristics in their offspring.

  5. Jeanne Byington Said:


    Your comment is priceless, covering not only the range of emotions and instances but some tips on how to handle disappointments.

    I’ve learned that while you may try, you can’t prepare yourself in advance for disappointments. Like a toothache, until repaired, you must live through them.

    As things happen that you want to share with someone you love who died, or when you see a gift or a card that would be perfect for them, I don’t think the sadness twinge ever goes away.

  6. Jeanne Byington Said:


    Your advice is excellent and outlook fabulous. What you say can work for most ventures, whether looking for a job or clients. Here’s to many opportunities for incredible feelings for you.

  7. Nancy Farrell Said:

    JBS your comments meant a lot to me—especially the part about someone you love dying and the grieving process. You wrote about how if you need help you can “talk” to someone who’s gone and sometimes the answer comes to you. How true. My mother-in-law’s been gone over 3 years and yet I talk to her all of the time but lately I’ve been talking to her more than ever.

    She cleaned office buildings for a living and when faced with what I thought was a huge problem she’d tell me to “do a little corner, then go on to the next corner without looking at the whole problem/mess/room. Before you know it, you’ll be at the 4th corner and you’ll be all done.” She’s been “telling” me that a lot lately.

    Jeanne: Maybe you ought to do a blog where people can weigh in on the best advice that they ever got from someone who is no longer with us? My mother-in-law had a tough life but she taught me some amazing coping skills and she kept her sweet optimistic spirit until the very end.

  8. Jeanne Byington Said:


    I had a friend who for years worked at a weekly news magazine with deadlines keeping her over Friday night and into the weekend until the issue closed. This was long before the Internet and she’d had to juggle all sorts of things to make room for late-breaking news. Her advice was similar to your mother-in-laws: Don’t think ahead, just focus on what you are doing this minute, finish it and go on to the next thing.

    She shared this at a time my career had taken a swervelette. I’d founded a business called Delivered Delicacies. I’d taken on a huge job, to provide the picnics for hundreds of people on a NYC ferry in conjunction with the Brooklyn Bridge centennial. I was suddenly faced with a first—potential failure–a missed deadline and hundreds of people stuck on a boat with nothing to eat. A chunk of my help had to leave the premises—we were working upstairs at the ferry terminal–to leave lower Manhattan, return the rented truck etc. A complication: I wasn’t allowed to board the boat early and had to do it at the same time as the passengers and I had to get hundreds of boxes down the stairs and on to the deck at just the right time.

    So I took her advice, filled and tied each box without looking at all the unfilled ones and I wouldn’t let myself think about how I would get all the boxes down the stairs and into the boat. It worked. Soon, to quote your mother in law, “all the corners were clean” and the potential crises became a celebration.

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