21 ways to overcome disappointment

“We would never learn to be brave and patient if there were only joy in the world,” wrote Helen Keller. How I wish she were wrong. Disappointments leave us with the unpleasant task of squashing, crushing, and pinching life’s lemons to extract anything to transform into lemonade. Let these techniques help you more easily turn sour into sweet as you take steps to overcome disappointment.

Throw Away the Evidence

Albert Einstein failed his college entrance exam. Walt Disney was fired from his first media job. Michael Jordan was cut from his high school basketball team. Get it?

Stay in the mud

“The lotus flower blooms most beautifully from the deepest and thickest mud,” says a Buddhist proverb, just in case you thought everything dirty was bad.

Make a pearl

Allow your disappointment to form a life-affirming pearl, just as an oyster does when an irritating grain of sand gets inside its shell. Just be sure to grab the pearl before the sand gets in your eyes.

Ignore the critics

Success is one percent natural talent, 99 percent hard work. Take it from a writer whose eighth-grade paper was read aloud as an example of how NOT to write.

Grow your roots

Although the bamboo is the fastest-growing plant on Earth, it looks lazy at first because it has no branches…just lots of deep and wide roots. Once its roots take hold, though, bamboo is capable of surging as fast as 48 inches in 24 hours. So are we … if we grow strong roots.


“The greatest oak was once a little nut who held its ground.” — Author Unknown

Don’t rush the process

Only in struggling to emerge from a small hole in the cocoon does a butterfly form wings strong enough to fly. Should you try to help a butterfly by tearing open the cocoon, the poor thing won’t sprout wings, or if it does, its friends will make fun of it. So take your time, and emerge slowly and deliberately.

Protect yourself

Avoid the highly educated relative who might tell you “all things happen for a reason” or that you somehow attracted this disappointment with the wrong thoughts. Build an imaginary bubble of protection and hide inside.

Stay big

Newspaper columnist Ann Landers once wrote, “Expect trouble as an inevitable part of life, and when it comes, hold your head high. Look it squarely in the eye, and say, “I will be bigger than you. You cannot defeat me.” So give yourself permission to be a giant

Allow cracks

A crack in your marriage, career, or personal plans doesn’t mean that your life is broken. According to singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen, “There is a crack, a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.”


Write about it

Recent research by Dr. James Pennebaker, chair of the psychology program at the University of Texas, has concluded that writing about painful feelings and emotional events relieves stress and promotes healing on many levels. So start a journal, and put anything — from a single word to pages of thoughts — down on paper.

Back up

Think of an Impressionist painting — you can’t make sense of it until you back away a little. Up close, all you see is dots of different shapes and colors. But with some distance, the painting comes alive. It tells a story.

Stand up again

A Japanese proverb says, “Fall seven times, stand up eight.” Notice there is no mention of sitting down when you’re tired, or crawling when you’re scared.

Join the race

That’s the human race I’m talking about. Because no one is perfect. The human experience is an exercise in collecting disappointments and mistakes, ruminating on them for a little bit, and turning them into wisdom and growth.

Take the fork

Yogi Berra once said, “When you come to the fork in the road, take it.” It doesn’t matter which direction you choose as long as you keep moving.

Start over

Every disappointment is an opportunity to start over. It’s a blank slate, a clean, white piece of paper. And don’t worry — if this time you still can’t color within the lines, you’ll get another blank sheet, as many new beginnings as you need.

Be gentle with yourself

Don’t scream at yourself. Speak to yourself with loving kindness, the same way you would to a friend who was just dealt a big, fat, unfair blow. You deserve kindness from everyone, including yourself.

Get directions

Early in her career, Oprah Winfrey was taken off the air in Baltimore, where she’d been given a shot at a talk show. Says Oprah: “I have learned that failure is really God’s way of saying, ‘Excuse me, you’re moving in the wrong direction’.”

Dance in the rain

My mom once told me, “You can’t wait for the storm to be over. You have to learn how to dance in the rain.”

Believe in miracles

I’ve witnessed enough miracles in my life to know they happen … usually when I least expect it.

Hang on to hope

There is one thing that never, ever disappoints. And that’s hope. Hold onto it forever.

Therese J. Borchard writes the Beyond Blue blog on Beliefnet. Her new book, also called Beyond Blue, has just been published.

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