The Four A’s of Dealing with Disappointment

Peace Corps Morocco / Saturday, April 4th, 2015

A couple weeks ago, I received some disappointing news. For reasons, I can only describe as Peace Corps Logic, I was informed of the decision to cancel the Morocco cohort that was to leave in September. I had just sent in my passport the week previously; I had printed off about a dozen trees worth of information in mankind’s biggest binder, and now everything seemed for naught.

I’d given the email a cursory glance on my phone between tasks at work; I quickly left my office to find a quiet place to read it in through – hoping that this email, which stated: “I understand how difficult and disappointing this news is to receive” was some kind of misunderstanding.


It felt like an understatement at the time. When I make the decision to chase my dreams, I hold on tightly. This situation is no different. Despite all of that, however, I believe it’s important that when disappointment comes your way, you have to use it as a means to open yourself wider to this experience called life. And so, I thought I’d give you a few simple strategies that I find helpful when dealing with disappointment.

1. Acknowledge

Before we begin this journey together, I need you to click play on the video below:

You did? Good. You just learned the first step to dealing with disappointment. Say you’re disappointed already. I don’t what it is about our culture that teaches us that we have to act tough in the face of pain, but it’s not healthy. So be soft instead. When somebody asks you about your disappointment, you’re not obligated to fake a grin. Be honest. Be vulnerable. Say simply that you feel hurt or upset about the news you’ve received. Above all, allow yourself to experience that pain.

2. Allow

Being a society of doing, we easily forget the importance of allowing. If we’re not showing off our stiff upper lip, the next tendency is to overwork ourselves to the point where we don’t have to deal with the pain that comes from disappointment. However, even if we’re able to accomplish two or three times of the work that we are usually able to do, eventually the disappointment will come bubbling up; most likely at the most inconvenient time. Only when we give ourselves a time-out from our never-ending list of tasks—whether it’s finishing one more report or reorganizing our kitchen yet again—will we be able to properly accept our disappointment.

3. Accept

When things don’t go the way we expect, it’s easy to spend a lot of time feeling sorry for ourselves or moping around. And while it’s good to allow room for the disappointment, it’s equally important not to wallow or focus on this pain. When we focus on how we feel wronged by people, the world, or ourselves, it stunts our natural growth pattern. In many instances, we can even regress to a lower version of our true selves. Instead, we need to accept this pain as a part of the human experience and aim for ways we can use pain to for growth.

4. Aim

How can we utilize disappointment for growth?

I believe that disappointment leaves a fantastic opening to evaluate our own personal and professional development. For me, when I received the email that they had decided to cancel the Morocco trip, my mind began racing as I tried to re-evaluate my perfectly-planned five-year plan. At that time, I was in no position to aim for anything, except feeling sorry for myself. However, now that I’ve taken the time to acknowledge the disappointment, allow for the pain, and accept that disappointment is a part of the human experience, I have arrived at a place where I can examine my current life journey and take aim to propel myself upwards.

Three questions that can help you take aim include:

  • How does my current work fit my long-term dreams?
  • How does my current lifestyle choices reflect my own personal trajectory on my life path?
  • How am I spending my free time? Am I taking time to better myself, others, and the environment around me? Equally important, am I leaving enough space to unwind and relax?

Take the time to realize that disappointing news does not have to equate failure in your professional or personal life. Don’t hide from the disappointments and don’t let disappointment control you. Allow for the inevitable pain, for suffering is a beautiful part of the human experience. But remember that it is your mindset that determines whether disappointment will reflect failure or greater success in the long-term. Above all, use disappointments as a way to expand into greater awareness of yourself and of the world around you. Remember, it’s just another door you will face on your own personal journey: you may be surprised by what you find on the other side.

What ways do you use disappointing situations for growth?

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