Down But Not Out

In every part of life—romance, work, family—there are disappointments. And these can indeed set you back. But setbacks actually force us to take risks, learn and grow.

By Lybi Ma, published March 29, 2004 - last reviewed on June 9, 2016

So you just got fired? Don't wallow in misery. You may be the new CEO of the next biggest thing. Licking your wounds over a bitter divorce? You may end up meeting the love of your life—today. So don't sit around. You may meet him on a plane or even at the grocery store. In fact, a lot of good can come out of a big disappointment. Setbacks actually force us to take risks, learn and grow.

In every part of life—romance, work, family—stuff happens. And these disappointments can indeed set you back, make you feel anxious and fearful. In moving through the recovery process, you may likely feel a range of emotions including anger, anxiety, confusion, low self-esteem and self-doubt. These represent stages of response and cannot be rushed. But over time you will begin to feel acceptance and hopefulness. When you let go of the past, you will experience increased self-esteem and renewed optimism.

But how do you get there? Terri Needels, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist in Honolulu, has some words of advice: "Don't focus on what you lost or what didn't work. You have to rewrite your script and see yourself differently—such as seeing yourself with another person, or at another job."

Easier said than done. Some people flounder in frustration and blame after a disappointment. Worse, some people fall into deep depression. But then again others bounce back quickly and with energy. While you can argue that these people may well be born more resilient, resilience can certainly be learned. Practice and experience help. Most successful people have had their hard knocks, but they recover and move on. They, in fact, see disappointment as a prospect for something new. "Big losses provide the biggest opportunities for change," says Needels. "They make a person more open to trying new things."

Here are a few tips to learn how you can become more resilient and overcome life's big disappointments:

  • Accept the setback. Know that setbacks happen to everyone. And realize that you may never understand what happened.
  • Face your fears. It's normal to feel insecure, but don't cower and avoid uncertainty.
  • Be patient. Reflect and think about what you plan to do; but don't rush, it will only aggravate the process.
  • Go beyond your comfort zone. Take risks. Go after that job you think you can't do, doing so will build self-esteem and resilience.
  • Find your hero. Think about people who have survived adversity—Christopher Reeve, Oprah. Use them as your role models.
  • Know what you want. If you have goals, it's easier to make plans and move forward.
  • Be a problem-solver. Don't be the victim, instead learn to behave proactively.
  • One step at a time. To move forward, the enormity of the task (such as finding a new job after a lay-off) may seem insurmountable. Focus on each step you must take, not the entire undertaking.
  • Seek support. Talk to friends, family or a therapist.
  • Be kind to yourself. Disappointments are a source of stress, so exercise, eat right and get rest.