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  1. Blog
  2. Career Development
  3. December 14, 2020

Disappointed at Work? That Might Be a Good Thing

The upside of not passing go

Sad dog lying on the floor
Photo courtesy of Matthew Henry

We’ve all been disappointed, and we will be again. 

While the feelings of discouragement and sadness that accompany big disappointments are uncomfortable, it’s how we react to them that can make the event truly awful or something we can grow from.

Read more: How to Grow When You Have Nowhere to Go

What is disappointment?

Disappointment is the feeling of sadness we get when something we wanted or expected to happen doesn’t. At work, we can be disappointed when a project fails or a promising new hire quits abruptly or we don’t get a bonus, raise, or promotion.

Obviously some disappointments are harder to handle than others, especially if it means you’ll likely never obtain your goal. Still, if you learn how to manage the emotion in a positive manner, rather than blaming yourself or feeling unduly humiliated, you can actually learn from it and use it as a motivator.

Read more: How Social Intelligence Can Help Your Career & Make You a Better Leader  

Disappointment can be a good thing—really

If you view disappointments as learning experiences, you’ll be able to turn the negative feelings from the event to positive ones, and take action. This means your mindset has to change. You no longer can dismiss the entire event as an abject failure, trying to ignore it or wallowing in the pain and humiliation of it all.

Instead, you need to take a step back. With a little reflection and objective assessment on what really happened, you can learn how to set realistic expectations and plan exactly how to achieve your objective. 

That means if you lost out on a promotion you desperately wanted, don’t just quit in a rage. Take a long hard look at why you didn’t get it. Be honest with yourself. Did you have the experience and expertise required? What about the seniority? Was there a viable replacement for your own position? Are you a top performer? Was the promotion promised to you?

Read more: 6 Steps to Feeling Less Lost Right Now

If you recognize that the promotion you wanted was simply too big a leap in the hierarchical structure of the organization, you can reset your expectations. Set your focus on interim promotions that lead to the top one; it’ll take longer, but it’s more realistic and you’ll gain confidence as you successfully climb the corporate ladder.

Similarly, even if you’re a top performer with seniority, your management and emotional intelligence skills might need some work before you can gain the leadership role you want. Start improving those skills now so you can ultimately achieve your goal.

Read more: Rest, Curated: 18 Playlists & Apps to Help You Chill Out

A matter of control

What you’re doing is taking back control from an event, whose outcome (that deeply affected you) was out of your control. In other words, you didn’t have any say in the promotion decision; however, you can control how you react to that disappointment. And that feeling of control will make you feel better and allow you to plan.

There’s science to back that up. Research shows that even “perceived control is an important factor in adopting and maintaining good physical and psychological health,” while other studies show that depression is linked to “weakened perceptions of control.”

When you use disappointment as a personal growth experience, you develop resilience, a skill you can lean on when dealing with future setbacks, whether personal or professional. If you understand the reason why you were so disappointed (was it the money? the prestige? the proof of career progression?), you can better understand what is truly important to you.

Read more: Adaptability: Your Most Essential Workplace Skill 

How to bounce back after being disappointed

If you’re hit with a crushing disappointment at work, your first instinct may be to lash out at everyone around you—including yourself. While understandable, venting about betrayal to your colleagues or indulging in negative self-talk doesn’t accomplish anything and can make things worse. This is not the time to act on any vindictive feelings you might be experiencing.

If you can’t remove yourself from the situation right away, try to use humor to deflect attention. When you can get some time alone, use it to reflect on what happened and see if there’s a way forward. You don’t want to get stuck in a morass of bitterness, depression, and self-blame.

Read more: What I Learned About Advocating for Myself in the Workplace

But you do need to allow yourself to feel the disappointment, Heather Whelpley, women’s coach and speaker, tells us. “So often we don't allow ourselves to acknowledge the sadness or anger caused by the disappointment so the emotions get stuck, ruminating around in your head and body.” 

Whelpley says to try this three-step process:

  1. Give yourself permission to stop and feel. This can be hard if you believe you don't have time to feel or that feelings are messy and impolite, but let me assure you—you are allowed to feel your feelings! 

  2. Name what you are feeling. Out loud. 

  3. Release the emotion through crying, writing, dancing, running—whatever works for you to release.

“You might have to repeat this process more than once,” Whelpley says. “Continue to feel and release. Letting go will create the space to learn from the disappointment and move on."

Read more: 14 Healthy Coping Mechanisms for Stressful Times

Career empowerment coach Melanie Denny agrees that processing your emotions is necessary. “Feelings of disappointment can impact your confidence, which may lower morale and subsequently reduce overall performance,” she says. “Do not dismiss or ignore your emotions; that’s a recipe for disaster. Eventually, those emotions will resurface, so it’s best to acknowledge and assess why you feel disappointment.”

Next is the assessment of the event. 

Denny says to ask yourself:

  • What did you expect?

  • What actually happened?

  • On a scale from 1–10, how pressing is this matter?

  • Does it warrant this level of emotional attachment?

  • Will I recover?

  • How can I move forward without sacrificing my own happiness?

The last step is to see the event in a new light. “Instead of allowing disappointment to be an obstacle,” Denny says, “view it as an opportunity to reset your expectations.”

Read more: 37 Quotes About Resilience from Women—Mostly

About our sources

Heather Whelpley is a speaker, coach, and author of the book An Overachiever's Guide To Breaking The Rules: How To Let Go Of Perfect and Live Your Truth. Read Heather's blog and get all the details about her workshops, coaching programs, and book at www.heatherwhelpley.com

Melanie Denny is a career empowerment coach, award-winning resume writer, nationally certified LinkedIn strategist, and international career speaker. President of Resume-Evolution, she’s helped thousands of corporate professionals, from entry-level to executive across various industries, level up in their careers.

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Stephanie Olsen

Contributor

Stephanie Olsen is a freelance writer and copy editor. She writes about everything from women’s issues in the workplace and Ethiopian coffee culture to facilities management and expatriate life. Laughs uproariously at her own jokes.  

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