Dealing With Disappointments and Setbacks

Sure, our lives often don’t unfold as we planned.   We had hoped to get hired, a negative biopsy, that raise, award, invitation or appreciation that we’ve been longing for.

Then it doesn’t materialize.

Or maybe something bad happened. An assault, a theft, an accident, an illness.

I would imagine our first reaction is, “what’s wrong with me?”   Our second reaction might be, “what’s wrong with you/them?” Or, “what’s wrong with the world?”

What if no one is wrong, nothing is wrong, and everything is right, even if it doesn’t feel that way? Eckhart Tolle says that everything that happens is meant to happen because it did happen.   And according to Shakespeare, “There is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so.”

In other words, events are neutral. The meaning that we assign to it is what can make us unhappy or anxious. If we view an event as negative, we will feel bad. If we view the event as an opportunity, we will feel excited.

How do we take terrible events and turn them into something positive? I believe there is a silver lining to everything. It is our job, if we wish to leave a peaceful and happy life, to find that silver lining and make the most of it.

I know that you have done the same, or experienced it at some point in your life. Here are some examples of how disappointing outcomes in my life have ended up being good things, either by my own design or accident:

  • Being socially awkward as a teenager – Though I missed out on developing some key social skills as an adolescent, I spent that time learning about and affirming myself which started me on this path I’m on now.
  • Challenging family relationships – I had to really look to myself to understand my role in these challenging relationships and how I can grow both a better me and relationship at the same time.
  • Didn’t get into Harvard, Yale, or even Rice University – None of those schools have Colleges of Pharmacy. I would not be in this field that I love and which has so much opportunity if I had gone to an ivy league college.
  • The job offer turned into a hiring freeze – OK, so I might actually be rich now if that job materialized. But I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to do a job that I love working with students and faculty to help create a better, healthier world.
  • Developing chronic pain issues – Made me stop and learn to take care of myself instead of running myself into the ground. Also made me really really appreciate when I am pain-free.
  • A career that was killing me – As my marriage failed, so did my pursuit of the traditional publish-or-perish academic lifestyle. It was killing me, which was the indicator that I was on the wrong path and needed to look elsewhere. So I did.
  • Failed marriage – Like my painful adolescence, a bad marriage was also fertile ground for self-exploration, relationship development and personal growth. It didn’t work out in the traditional sense, but we have two amazing boys and an abundance of precious life lessons as a result.
  • Failed friendships – Certain friendships I thought were going to make it in the long run didn’t. Their dissolution meant I had more time to invest in the ones that have survived the decades.
  • My kids didn’t turn out perfect. Neither did I for that matter – Thank goodness. Perfection is a heavy burden to bear and precludes growth.
  • Death of a loved one – Death is inevitable but is particularly unfortunate when someone dies “before their time.”   Death creates a void, an a void provides an opportunity to fill it with something positive, but different:  a new purpose, new habits, new perspective, or a growth challenge.

Now if I take the time to look at all the things that have gone well or beyond expectation in my life, then I feel replete with blessings and good fortune. Tolle again says it better than I can ever hope:

“People believe themselves to be dependent on what happens for their happiness. They don’t realize that what happens is the most unstable thing in the universe. It changes constantly. They look upon the present moment as either marred by something that has happened and shouldn’t have or as deficient because of something that has not happened but should have. And so they miss the deeper perfection that is inherent in life itself, a perfection that lies beyond what is happening or not happening. Accept the present moment and find the perfection that is untouched by time.”