Disappointment seemed like the theme of 2017–and not just because of the results of the U.S. Presidential election. It was more personal than that. At least that was how it felt. Over and over again I got this close to an opportunity before it was awarded to someone else. It happened so much that it almost become comical. Almost.
“Always a finalist, never an offer.” It’s a painful, soul-crushing position to find yourself in, but one that’s inevitable if we are ever to go after anything in life: a new job, a new relationship, a new faith community. There’s always the possibility that disappointment awaits us.
I have trouble managing my expectations. If I’ve mustered up the courage to try for something, I’ve surely convinced myself that I might actually achieve it. And if it’s in the realm of possibility, then I’ve certainly gone down the path of imagining it working out the way I’d hoped. Then it begins to feel inevitable that things will go my way.
So, what happens when they don’t?
This happened so much last year that I know my precise pattern. First, I begin by berating myself. I convince myself that I must have been delusional to think that I had what it took. No, I didn’t get picked because clearly there’s something wrong with me–and now I have to figure out and fix whatever that is. Then, I let the shame take over. I allow it to shut me down and keep me from reaching out to the people who would want to be there for me in my disappointment. Eventually the pain inevitably begins to subside. My inner critic backs off a bit, but it’s ready and waiting for the the next letdown to come my way.
It’s not exactly something I would recommend.
Disappointment is neither permanent nor personal, but in the moment it can certainly feel like both. Nothing is ever going to work out the way that I want. This kind of negative self-talk just pours salt into the stinging wounds of disappointment. Is there a better way to deal? To heal?
One of the few upsides of being let down a lot in recent months is that I’ve begun to see that most of the time it really isn’t about me when I don’t get what I want. Usually the fact of the matter is that someone else was a better fit. And if someone else was a better fit, then whatever it was probably wasn’t the ideal fit for me either.
The trick, then, is to believe that the ideal opportunity will come–eventually. This is when community can be especially helpful. Other people can remind us of our gifts and strengths and reassure us we are needed, we are loved, and new possibilities await us.
Disappointment stings. There is no getting around that. But kind words–from others and from within–are a balm.
Rev. Katey Zeh is a Baptist minister, strategist, writer, and speaker who inspires communities to create a more just, compassionate world. She is the co-host of Kindreds, a podcast for soul sisters. Her book Women Rise Up will be published by the FAR Press this year. Find her on Twitter at @kateyzeh or on her website kateyzeh.com.