How to Change Disappointment Into Opportunity

What is your biggest disappointment in life right now? I bet something immediately popped to mind. Hold this without judgement as you read because we’re going to use it as we go.

At this very moment, my biggest disappointment is exhaustion like I’ve never experienced before. This is saying a lot because I’ve been progressively exhausted for more than two decades.

My doctor explained the can’t-get-out-of-bed-don’t-even-want-to-hold-up-a-book exhaustion as part of the detox process, and it should last about three months. (If you’re curious about why I’m detoxing read this. If not, let’s just sum it up as part of my healing process to beat Lyme Disease.) The problem is, not taking daily steps to achieve my dream goals is an unacceptable option for me. So, for the past few months, I’ve lived with this tension and guilt and extreme disappointment.

One afternoon, as I spent another day binge watching Grey’s Anatomy due to debilitating fatigue, I had an epiphany. What if I viewed the next few months as a stay-cation? You know those moments when you wish you could be sick so you could stay at home and rest and watch all the TV you want, catch up on those novels collecting dust on the shelf, and do whatever you want to do?

But.

It didn’t work. The same night I decided I was on a stay-cation, I tossed and turned to all hours of the morning hating myself for not being productive. When I woke the next morning I realized, being an active contributor to society is simply part of who I am. I don’t want to withdraw from society for three plus months. I want all the joy, all the fun, all the life I can get regardless of the exhaustion.

When I mentioned my stay-cation theory to my therapist, she pointed out the major flaw. My illness wasn’t time I chose to take off, it was a sudden, unwanted, long-term interruption.

Face-palm. I was bargaining, one of the stages of grief.

Disappointment is a form of mourning. That hope, that dream, that possibility has died.

I believe it’s right and good to go through the five stages of mourning for our disappointment—denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. These stages aren’t linear, and we move in and out of them for random periods of time, in no particular order. The ultimate goal is completely accepting our life as it is now, not striving for what it once was.

Acceptance takes time. It starts with fleeting moments, and as we face our grief more and more, acceptance becomes a natural part of life. A question haunted me after I realized grief held me in its firm grip: In those first glimpses of acceptance, how could I begin to change my mindset, to turn disappointment into opportunity?

What if instead of being disappointed, I create new goals for this season of downtime? What if I make it a game? I’ve always wanted to learn Italian, but have never had the time. Same with meditation and playing the piano. What if instead of watching another episode of Grey’s, I meditated for 20 minutes? And if I needed to rest after, I would rest.

So, I came up with a While I Detox Bucket List:

  • Learn Italian
  • Meditate daily
  • Learn piano
  • Finish editing the Gatekeeper series
  • Write memoir
  • Write blogs
  • Write a first draft of a new series
  • Read the stack of books I’ve been putting off
  • Research all my health problems, make decisions on treatment, and kick Lyme’s ass.

That’s a long bucket list. And, I know I won’t accomplish everything in three months, but I can create new habits and get a head start on my goals while still maintaining my health. (This Bucket List was actually the start of my 2018 goals.) Most importantly, the Detox Bucket List still works at any stage of grief, but also helps fulfill that deep part of me that longs to be productive.

Now, back to you. Take out that disappointment you identified at the beginning of this blog and look at it. Study it from all angles. Journal about it. Why is it so disappointing? What do you believe about yourself because of it? How do you imagine your life to be different without it? Sit in that reality for as long as it takes.

I believe, looking at the disappointment as it truly is, not trying to bargain (Woo hoo! Stay-cation!), and accepting the reality of it as part of our life stories is essential to true healing.

When you’re ready, try to find the opportunity in the disappointment. Can you create a new mindset, a new way of seeing the disappointment for your advantage? Can you create something similar to my Detox Bucket List, but personalized to your life?

Grief is impossibly hard, no matter what form it takes. Death of a hope or dream is no exception. Sometimes, as we grieve those hopes we can feel so alone. I’d love to hear your process, to give you a kind word and encouragement. Share your disappointment in the comments and, if you’ve arrived at acceptance, how you switched it into opportunity.


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