When Disappointment Stings by Katey Zeh

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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 aRA82 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

Categories: Faith, Friendship

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8 replies

  1. “Nothing is ever going to work out the way that I want.” This is the “mantra” that I used to use on myself, for years, and it breeds depression. One part of breaking the cycle for me was accepting that it is also not true that “Everything should work out the way I want.” This is not how life works! Also I found that the mind gets into ruts and that it can be hard to stop the tapes from playing. Here I have found that repeating different mantras can be helpful. Here is the one I am using these days: “Katey shall be well. Katey shall be happy. Katey shall be free of suffering. Katey shall not be separated from joy.” This is adapted from Heatherleigh Navarre who adapted it from a Buddhist prayer. Note that it does not tie happiness to a particular outcome. Also, Heatherleigh suggests that this prayer should be directed to everyone who crosses your path, not just to yourself and your near and dear.

    And, as Judith Plaskow used to say to me, “Chin up!”

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you, Carol. I’m going to incorporate this mantra into my morning gratitude ritual. I was just speaking with someone about how “well” does not necessarily mean “everything I want, when I want.” Thank you!


  2. As a novelist who never found quite the right publishing fit, I have walked miles and spent years in those shoes. No publisher for 13 years, then publishing experiences fraught with more disappointment. And so it continues, but like you I am doing my best not to take it personally, and my community is a great comfort and support. Also, I will note that if I’d had the success I wanted (and still believe I deserve) I would not have studied to become a counselor, a practice that has brought my life much meaning and fulfillment. I love Carol’s mantra, no matter what the outcome, we shall not be separated from joy!


  3. Thanks Katey, you said — “The trick, then, is to believe that the ideal opportunity will come–eventually.” Yes, indeed, and so what is the meaning of the end of March then, well, happily here comes the beginning of spring. Hooray.


  4. Disappointments do indeed fill our lives. But I think we can always find at least crumbs of kindness. Spring always follows winter, though here in SoCal we had a very mild winter and are expecting a major rainstorm this week following the equinox. Well,you know what they say……rain brings flowers. Maybe metaphorically as well as literally.


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