How to Grow from Disappointment

Posted on in On Our Radar by Arjuna Ardagh


If we want to live extraordinary lives, you and me, if we aspire to be pioneers, to say the things that have never been said before, to do the things that have never been done before, to imagine things that have never been imagined before, we are in the same breath opening ourselves up to the possibility of disappointment. Think of the pioneers who made their way from the East Coast to the West in America. Snakes, drought, dysentery, extreme weather conditions—they must have suffered a lot more disappointment than success. But now they are all living in Beverly Hills driving fancy cars and living the good life.

If you get a job at the bank, get a regular paycheck, marry someone sweet and cozy, get a sensible house and a sensible car, with lots and lots of insurance, it is possible to create the appearance of security, to take steps to protect yourself against disappointment. But it may also be a protection against any kind of inspiration, of breaking the mold, of being a pioneer.

Since being a pioneer and integrating disappointment go hand in hand, it’s wise to know how to be with it when it arises. Disappointment always takes us by surprise—no matter how much practice we get, it knocks the stuffing out of us every time. I’ve had my fair share of it myself. I’d love the whole world to wake up to our true potential tomorrow. I’d love for more people to know about the work I do in the world: Awakening Coaching, and the miracles it creates in people’s lives. I get disappointed by how much attention goes to meaningless things on social media, while the important things get ignored.

Here are a few tips I have learned along the way about dealing with disappointment.

Come back as quickly as you can to the body.

Disappointment and rejection are frequencies in the body. They have a message for us; they can be a miniature dark night of the soul, which carries redemption on the other side. You can let yourself be washed clean of illusion in the waters of disappointment. When you are immersed in that darkness and hopelessness, it brings you more and more stably into yourself and into sanity.

Assume an Evolutionary Opportunity.

When something happens that is not what you had expected, not what you had planned for, it’s wise to assume that that there is some kind of evolutionary opportunity in it for you, something to learn. Assume that this disappointment has occurred for your benefit, so you can grow even faster and then take action based upon that assumption. Reach out in some way that welcomes the opportunity to grow.

Here is a personal example. I am going through a transition of management within Awakening Coaching. The man I have been working with has been doing a great job, and now he has some other dreams he wants to follow. Just when he decided to move in a different direction, a highly qualified leader emerged to lead the company. This new leader had led multimillion dollar companies for decades, and he was attracted to what we are doing. So we went into a slow dance for three months. He took our training, we met in person regularly for walk and dialogue. Finally, he said, “You know, I’ve really been feeling into this. I’m getting a little older, and I’ve had some health challenges lately. I am concerned that taking on a company with this much going on, and this much potential for growth, is too stressful for me. I need to step aside.”

Of course I accepted his decision immediately. Taking care of ourselves and those close to us must always be the top priority. But I did feel left in a vacuum. I felt terrible. Like all the energy had been sucked out of my body.

In a moment like this, you cannot take the next step immediately. There is a period of shock you go through. But later that day I called my good friend Saniel Bonder. I told him what had happened. “It must be an opportunity to grow in some way,” I said. “It must be that life is showing me something I need to learn. Who do you think could help me learn the lesson from this?” He mentioned the name of a coach. That very same day, I called the guy. We had quite a dialogue about Awakening Coaching as an organization, and we agreed to enter into a one-year coaching relationship. He absolutely knows how to guide me to get the support I need. That disappointment turned out to be very fruitful. It gave me the impetus I needed to get help in a way that I would never have thought about otherwise.

That is just a little example, but it is one you can extrapolate from easily for your own life. If you get rejected in love, for example, it can be very disappointing, devastating. But it could be the perfect opportunity to get support to discover the habits in relationship that sabotage love.

Open to an intelligence beyond the mind.

You can ask a friend for help and feedback, as I did. But there is other help for you as well. Later that night, when I went to bed, I could still feel the disappointment energy. So I called out for help from forces beyond my own understanding. I asked for help from the intelligence, the benevolence, the orderliness that structures the universe. People sometimes call that “the Divine,” or “God,” or you can call it “your expanded self.” A challenge like this can snap you out of the arrogance of thinking I know how to run my life, I have it all under control, and refer you back to the simplicity of Grace. It is intelligent to realize I am a tiny ant, busy carrying little breadcrumbs around, but I have no idea about the bigger picture. We are more open to Grace in moments of defeat than in moments of triumph.

Allow yourself to grieve your loss.

When we have a disappointment, there is a natural tendency to withdraw, to become deflated. It is easy to want to jolly ourselves out of that, and other people will try to cheer you up too. When I have a disappointment or a shock, I have found that it is very smart to allow this withdrawal to happen.

When somebody dies, we understand that grieving is important, and that you need a period of mourning. It is just the same when any project or dream dies, or an opportunity or a working relationship. We can know when that grieving is finished not because we bounce back full of enthusiasm again, but because we return to an emotional flow. At first you might cry or feel a tenderness. Colors seems brighter again, smells become more vivid. Then you know that it is time to step back into the sandbox.

Hold others blameless.

When something goes wrong for us, it is common and natural to want to blame other people, even to get angry. We may feel that we wasted our time, that we were led astray. After that exploration fell through around running my company, I called him back a few days later. I thanked him for considering working with me. For giving so much of his time. We found new ways to be friends and to stay in touch. To be open to new possibilities, we have to relax the blame reflex and return to gratitude. Gratitude is the soil that allows new and wonderful things to grow.

We can so easily define our lives through our successes: by the books we write, the amazing people we know, by the money we make and the peaks we climb. I have come to discover that the quality of my life is better defined by how I deal with disappointment, and how I can use the valleys as well as the peaks to live a rich life.

Arjuna Ardagh is the founder of Awakening Coaching, and the author of the No. 1 national best-seller The Translucent Revolution. His new book, coauthored with John Gray, is titled Conscious Men.

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