During the First World War, Winston Churchill was demoted from his position as First Lord of the Admiralty, because his plan to capture Istanbul failed. He had sent a fleet through the Dardanelles Strait, to fight Turkey, and force them to quit. It didn’t work and tens of thousands died. Churchill was disgraced.

To cope with this calamity, he moved away from politics, and reflected on what had happened. Churchill realized that it was more constructive to reframe his disappointments as learning experiences, so he could cope better. That way, his disappointments could be a catalyst for personal growth.

Do the rest of us deal with disappointments the same way? You guessed it – no.

At work, disappointment takes many forms: not getting the promotion you wanted, someone else taking credit for your work, your ideas being glazed over, not having supportive colleagues, or even finding discrepancies between what’s preached and what’s practiced. The list goes on. To deal with these, says psychoanalyst Manfred Vries, we often have two strategies:

  • Some of us attribute failures to our own deficiencies, and resort to self-blame. We direct anger inwards towards our self, believe we deserve the failure, and that we aren’t good enough.
  • The rest of us direct anger outwards, to people who didn’t fulfill our expectations. It contributes to feelings of spite, vindictiveness, and bitterness.

Unfortunately, Vries says, neither of these strategies help overcome disappointment. We get stuck. What do we do then? Vries recommends the following:

  1. Some disappointments are preventable, like missing a project deadline due to time management or underestimation of effort. But some others are beyond our control: not getting new projects as the economy slows down. Differentiate between what is within your control and what’s not. This helps manage our frustration, and fix what is fixable, if at all.
  2. It’s said that expectations are the root cause of many disappointments. You expect your boss to appreciate you for working extra hours. Or you expect support from other teams for your project. But, it may not be met. Think why. Was the expectation unrealistic? If yes, readjust it, and find a ‘good enough’ ask. Did you convey your expectation? If not, people won’t know. Ask for what you need.
  3. Redirect. When disappointed, do you brood for long, and let negative thoughts take over? If unchecked, this could lead to apathy and depression. Feel it for a while. And then, like Churchill, redirect. Find out what you learned. Focus on what is positive and healthy in your life.

If you think of it, disappointment is inevitable. But, remember what Martin Luther King said, “We must accept infinite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.”

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