TIME Careers & Workplace

How to Turn Life’s Disappointments Into Success Stories

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In work and in life, disappointment is often inevitable. Turn life’s curveballs into your success stories

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This story was originally published on StartupCollective.

Life is full of surprises that aren’t always the kind we would wish for. What makes these unwanted surprises even harder to accept is our attachment to the way we expected things to go. This particular brand of discomfort — the kind fueled by a life drunk with expectations and the resulting crash from failing to meet them — is profoundly sobering and uncomfortable. I call it an Expectation Hangover®, which I define in my latest book, “Expectation Hangover: Overcoming Disappointment in Work, Love and Life,” as:

The myriad undesirable feelings or thoughts present when one or a combination of the following things occurs:

  • A desired outcome does not occur.
  • A desired outcome does occur but does not produce the feelings or results we expected.
  • Our personal and/or professional expectations are unmet by ourselves or another.
  • An undesired, unexpected event occurs that is in conflict with what we wanted or planned.

The symptoms are similar, but far more miserable and lasting, to those caused by a hangover from alcohol: lethargy, depression, lack of motivation, confusion, denial, anger, poor work performance, diminished creativity, strained relationships, social withdrawal, low self-esteem, regret and a disconnection from a higher power. But when our expectations are met, we feel a sense of accomplishment and pride. Often risking little, we feel safe, in control and on-track. Achieving our goals is intoxicating. We are compelled toward them, sometimes disregarding the underlying motivations that come from our ego. While striving for goals has value, holding expectations and attachment to the way life “should” go sets the stage for disappointment.

Most of us don’t like it when our life seems to miss the memo on how we think things should be. But the truth is that the universe doesn’t miss anything. When we keep fighting for what we think we want, never slowing down enough to actually learn the lesson that our expectation hangover is attempting to teach, we’re too drunk with expectations to notice when we are headed in the wrong direction. The result? We continue to wake up with expectation hangovers.

So how do you treat them? It takes a lot more than two aspirin, some greasy food and staying inside with the lights low. Because we don’t like not feeling good, and so we look for an external way to ease the discomfort: rebound relationships, abrupt career changes or miscalculated risks, and addictions (drinking, gambling, sex, drugs, work, shopping) are common. We lose faith and sink into the quicksand of victim-hood and hopelessness.

Instead of thinking about how to rid yourself of an expectation hangover, consider how you can leverage it. Ask, “What am I learning?” rather than “Why is this happening?” Keep your mind out of judgment, regret and shoulda-coulda-woulda thinking. Think about some of the most inspirational people you know. I guarantee that part of what makes them so inspirational is how they leveraged their hangovers for growth and learning. Instead of perceiving something as a failure, they used what they learned to to create their next success. Your expectation hangovers are gifts. Each one has been an opportunity to let go of something external that you have clung to for worth, safety or love. If you learn how to respond to expectation hangovers from the perspective of a student rather than a victim, I guarantee you will walk through doorways of transformation.

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