Dealing with disappointment: a how-to guide

Disappointment. A feeling we’ve all experienced. A scholarship we weren’t nominated for. An award we weren’t given. A university we were rejected from. Underperforming in the final examination. Most, if not all of us, would have experienced these events at some point in our journey. Unfortunately, we also experience the crushing feeling of failure and the depressing disappointment that follows.

For some of us, we easily shake off the disappointment and push forward. But for others, the disappointment can be debilitating. Personally, I was gunning for a good final score, and I was doing well in all my examinations. My predicted grades were high, and I was on track for a prestigious university. However, I underperformed in my final exam, and was rejected from my dream university.

From that experience, I understood that the disappointment one feels in failing to achieve their goals (alongside the negative thoughts and emotions that follow) can be detrimental. Over time, I also managed to learn ways to deal with such emotions, and to have a quick and positive recovery.

So, dear readers, I decided to share these insights with you in the hopes that you can use these tips to find some way of recovering whenever you face that familiar feeling of disappointment. Do note that these tips were effective for me – you might have to find your own way to deal with it, but these are merely suggestions that you can try. And with that, here are my three tips!

1. Let all your emotions out

When you first feel the negative thoughts and emotions that come with being disappointed, it is best to let it all out in whatever way you prefer. Whether it be lying in bed for days (like me), crying, screaming, shouting, punching your pillow, or listening to sad music on repeat, it is best to get all that negativity out of the way first. It is much better to let it all out than to keep it bottled inside you, only for it to continuously explode later on.

Depending on how severely the situation impacted you, this can take a few hours or a few days. The behaviors can also differ in terms of extremity – it can range from explosive actions like punching and screaming to more moody and reflective actions like listening to music, or just lying in bed and thinking. Whatever it is, just know that it is ok to feel upset, and it is alright to express the emotions you feel.

It is also alright if you don’t want to talk to others – if you prefer to be shut in your room, and if you don’t really want to talk to your friends and share your feelings, then that’s alright as well. Also don’t feel upset at the fact that you are upset, but just be patient with yourself and learn to accept that it is alright to feel negatively about events. It is equally alright to express such negativities.

However, do be careful – if these negative thoughts and emotions become so severe that they impact your overall functioning, and if they continue to persist, then it might be best to seek out some help, especially if you feel that it is too overwhelming for you to cope.

But the definite first step that I would recommend is to recognize that you are disappointed and upset, accept that you are very very upset, and then let out all the negative emotions you feel.

2. Give Yourself Time

Whenever you experience disappointment, it helps to just give yourself some time to get over it. Even after you have let out all your negative emotions, and even when our emotional state is stable, it doesn’t mean the disappointing experience doesn’t entirely affect you anymore.

Personally, even after I have my emotional period, I tend to still struggle with accepting the final outcome. One example would be getting rejected by Cambridge. When I received the rejection letter, I was definitely disappointed, and spent a week in my room ignoring the world and just listening to music. After that week, I was more emotionally stable – I went out with my friends, I typed out a resume, and I applied for jobs. But even when I was working, there were times when the feelings of disappointment would arise, and it was often difficult to shake off.

Over time, though, it has gotten better. I have accepted the outcome, and am content with my placement in NUS. I no longer think of the rejection as a failure, and have learnt that sometimes the decisions we perceive to be the best ones are really not what we need. Cambridge was fantastic, yes, but there were many things I failed to calculate at the time, such as the cost and the fact that I was lacking in independence.

But it has taken a long time to be able to see that, and an even longer time to accept that perhaps Cambridge was not the place for me. I think that being able to look back and accept the past disappointments in our lives will take a long time, so do give yourself that time to grow and gain perspective, so that when you look back you learn to see it as a road that was closed for a good reason and not just a ‘failure’ or ‘disappointment’.

3. Moving On

The process of moving on is not an easy one. Even after the intense emotional release, the transition from that to acceptance and peace is not easy by any means. In general, having a strong social support network tends to help – it is always easier when your parents and your friends are there for you whenever you are upset. It also helps when your friends try to uplift you by bringing you out for lunch, or by playing video games with you. Other general things that have tended to help is to find distractions, like getting a job or studying for university.

Personally, my own journey didn’t really involve social relations. Instead, I got a job as a door-to-door salesperson, and mainly focused on earning income to pay for my own driving lessons. During that time, I met people who pushed me out of my comfort zone, and provided me with new perspectives on life in general. Through my time there, they taught me that there are bigger things in life to worry about than just not getting into my dream university. They taught me how to be resilient, and to always have a mindset of looking forward towards the future and not dwelling on past mistakes.

Thanks to my time there, I managed to see that the rejection from Cambridge was honestly not that big of a deal. I still got into university, I am fortunate enough to have parents who can pay for my education, and even if I make mistakes it’s not the end of the world. I can honestly say that the people I met there played a huge role in helping me get over my disappointment, and I will always be grateful for the lessons I have learnt.

And even when I entered university, those lessons have stayed with me, and have helped me deal with the many ‘disappointments’ I have faced.

This isn’t me saying you have to get a job with fantastic opportunities to move on. But rather, it helps to reset your perspective and think of the bigger picture. Whether that comes through a job, or through family and friends reminding you of it, or through teachers being kind to you, the best thing you can do is to develop a mindset of resilience.

Having a resilient mindset is honestly one of the most important things that you can have throughout life. If you manage to develop it, many events in life – such as underperforming in academics or getting rejected from a university – will end up as nothing more than a learning opportunity.

Overall, experiencing and dealing with disappointment isn’t easy or fun. But always remember to let out all your negative emotions, give yourself time and just find ways to move on. All the best for your studies, and I’ll see you next time!


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