We all dread disappointment. We get our hopes up for the perfect outcome, and when it doesn’t arrive, we're completely at a loss. Maybe (in a very profound way) we need to feel that confusion, that despair, that frustration.
After all, sometimes unpleasant things are good for us in the long run. So it is with disappointment (unlike mandatory childhood cabbage, which I maintain should be criminal).
When you’re aiming high, don’t worry so much about how far you might fall. Here’s how the disappointment you dread could end up pushing you to greater successes:
It Keeps You Grounded
Every time you succeed in something you do, it bolsters your ego. That’s a good thing, overall; you need to believe in yourself to properly pursue your goals. But if you become successful early on in a business venture, you can become too confident — and overconfidence can catastrophically hamper your future business decisions.
When you find yourself professionally disappointed, you should ask yourself one question:
Was I right to believe that things could have worked out there?
If the answer is yes, then you can retain your self-belief, but temper it with a recognition that you will never have full control over the path you take.
If the answer is no, then you can figure out what was wrong with your analysis and equip yourself to be more careful in future. Were you too quick to commit to a course of action? Did you cut corners in your haste? Did you fail to take advantage of the resources available to you?
Whatever you got wrong, you can be sure to get right on your next attempt. Plus, you’ll likely be more open to feedback and criticism on the way.
It Drives Flexibility
We are all vulnerable to becoming set in our ways, particularly if our approaches have generally worked before. We get into familiar grooves and go through the motions without really thinking about what we’re doing. Why put effort into diversifying your skills if everything you touch turns to gold?
Having a plan fall short can remind you of the importance of keeping an open mind, and free you to go back to the drawing board and come up with something better. It’s said that necessity is the mother of invention, after all, and there’s nothing quite like professional failure to convince you that you need to be open to change.
These days, the popular term is pivoting.
A business starts out with a particular goal or plan in mind, and either fails outright or realizes ahead of time that it won’t work. Instead of shutting down, the business figure out what it’s actually best at and resolves to do that instead — pivoting.
Instagram started out as a Foursquare-inspired app with broad functionality, but its creators realized that it wasn’t a good business model, and decided to focus on mobile photography. That certainly seems to have worked out for them!
In a similar vein, if you’re running a small business (or freelance operation) but not getting the results you want, you should seriously consider taking a step back and thinking about the direction you’re going in. You can always pivot to a different model — expand to new horizons or focus on a successful niche within your current approach.
It Can Make You Hungrier
When you get a taste of success, only to see it elude you, it can make you even more determined to reach it. It’s one thing to imagine something, however intensely you picture it, and it’s another entirely to feel you’re on the verge of achieving it. When that victorious feeling fades, you want it back as soon as possible.
This doesn’t always happen of course. Some people will hit a roadblock and simply decide to give up. That attitude isn’t conducive to business success, and knowing how to take motivation from a setback is vital for continued growth.
When you’re ready to push on after a disappointment, you’ll have two things fueling you:
It also helps that it’s so much easier to wipe the slate clean and try again in the era of cloud-based solutions. Previous generations could only have dreamed about the tools we have at our disposal, allowing failure to give way to a fresh start in the blink of an eye.
Here’s an example: A few years back, mostly on a whim, I set up an e-commerce store through Shopify, throwing together the branding over the course of a week or so with no significant financial investment. When I realized (to my disappointment) that it wasn’t a route I wanted to pursue, I took down the site and started my next venture the following day.
Though I didn’t use them much, I had created social media accounts under the business name, so there was no clear attachment to me. The site had been a failure, but it didn’t drain my resources or sully my personal brand, so I wasn’t dispirited. I wanted to push on, to change my approach — to find a way to succeed. It was easy to try once, so it would be easy to try again, and that’s exactly what I did.
It Tests Teamwork
Since the success of a business team can depend quite heavily on how its members interact, disappointment can ultimately leave it stronger. Why? Because we all face challenges, and sharing our adversity can serve to bring us together if we do it correctly.
Consider how tribal we are by nature, and that it’s perfectly normal to make fun of your own family and friends yet defend them fiercely when subjected to mockery from others. When we’re united against an external threat, we drop our guards around those experiencing the same conditions. We forget the pettiness of everyday office frivolities. We remember what we share, not what divides us
Note that I say united because it all depends on how the disappointment is framed— and that comes down to the person in charge. If they take a step back, their employees can begin to resent or even blame each other for the failure, leading to further (possibly total) failure.
But if they take the opportunity to reaffirm their belief in their team members, listen to feedback, and find ways to strengthen the bonds between them, they can get them feeling motivated for an inspirational comeback story.
Having confidence that your employers, peers and/or employees are fighting alongside you against a world thatyou believe doesn’t want to see you succeed is enormously meaningful, and pushes you to do better, try harder, aim higher… to prove people wrong, and claim a great victory for your tribe.
It Spurs Introspection
We typically like to tell ourselves that we know what we want from life, but that really isn’t always the case. Sometimes we only want something up until the point at which we get it. And disappointment can all too easily come as a surprise.
Have you ever tried to do something seemingly on a whim, only to end up crushed that it didn’t pan out? You realize that it was never really trivial for you— you’d simply been framing it as a flight of fancy because deep down you were scared to admit how much you wanted it?
Even if you haven’t, you should be aware that it’s not uncommon. Viewed in that light, disappointment is a very powerful and affirming thing. It reminds us of what we actually care about, and highlights the things that don’t really matter to us.
Several years ago, I sent out a spur-of-the-moment application for a job I’d happened upon, thinking nothing of it. It wasn’t something I really care about, after all— it was too far away, too inconvenient, too highly pressured. And when I was offered an interview, I stayed cool, because it wasn’t all that big a deal.
But when I was informed that they’d ended up promoting from within, I was crushed. I realized that I had desperately wanted it. I just hadn’t ever believed that I could achieve something like that, so I’d convinced myself that I didn’t want to.
Skip ahead to today, and I know what I want, and what I don’t. I readily admit to goals that I would previously have shied away from. And it’s all because I took that body blow and learned what’s truly important to me. It hurt like hell, but it was a necessary pain.
On the whole, while I’m certainly not suggesting you shouldn’t do everything you can to avoid disappointment, I think it’s fair to say that it can offer valuable learning experiences if properly analyzed and discussed.
In business, as in life, the road to achievement is winding and riddled with slopes of all inclinations and severities— learn to embrace the lows, and you’ll make the most of the highs.