“We would never learn to be brave and patient if there were only joy in the world,” wrote Helen Keller.
How I wish she were wrong.
Disappointments leave us with the unpleasant task of squashing, crushing, and pinching lemons to extract any and all juice.
Here, then, are a few of my techniques to turn sour into sweet, to try my best to overcome disappointment.
1. Throw away the evidence
Albert Einstein failed his college entrance exam. Walt Disney was fired from his first media job. Michael Jordan was cut from his high school basketball team. Get it?
2. Stay in the mud
“The lotus flower blooms most beautifully from the deepest and thickest mud,” says a Buddhist proverb, just in case you thought all crap was bad.
3. Make a pearl
Allow your disappointment to form a pearl just as an oyster does when an irritating grain of sand gets inside its shell, but grab the pearl before the sand gets in your eyes.
4. Ignore the critics
Success is one percent talent, 99 perspiration. Take it from a writer whose eighth-grade paper was read aloud as an example of how NOT to write.
5. Grow your roots
Although the bamboo is the fastest-growing plant on Earth, it looks lazy at first because there is no branching … just growing lots of deep and wide roots. At the right time, though, the evergreen is capable of surging as fast as 48 inches in 24 hours. So are we … if we grow strong roots.
“The greatest oak was once a little nut who held its ground.”–Author Unknown
7. Don’t rush the process
Only in struggling to emerge from a small hole in the cocoon does a butterfly form wings strong enough to fly. Should you try to help a butterfly by tearing open the cocoon, the poor thing won’t sprout wings, or if it does, its friends will make fun of it.
8. Protect yourself
Avoid the highly educated relative who might tell you “all things happen for a reason” or that you somehow attracted this disappointment with the wrong thoughts. Build an imaginary bubble and hide inside.
9. Stay big
Newspaper columnist Ann Landers once wrote, “Expect trouble as an inevitable part of life, and when it comes, hold your head high. Look it squarely in the eye, and say, “I will be bigger than you. You cannot defeat me.” For once in your life, the bigger you are, the better!
10. Allow cracks
A crack in your marriage, career, or personal plans doesn’t mean that your life is broken. According to Canadian singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen, “There is a crack, a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.”
11. Write about it
Recent research by Dr. James Pennebaker, chair of the psychology program at the University of Texas, has concluded that writing about painful feelings and emotional events relieves stress and promotes healing on many levels. So keep a journal.
12. Back up
Sometimes you can’t make sense of a picture until you back up. Up close all you see is dots … lots of them in different shapes and colors. But with some distance the painting comes alive. It tells a story.
13. Stand up again.
A Japanese proverb says, “fall seven times, stand up eight.” Notice there is no mention of sitting down when you’re tired, or crawling when you’re scared.
14. Join the race
That’s the human race I’m talking about. Because no one is perfect. The human experience is an exercise in collecting disappointments and mistakes, ruminating on them for a little bit, and turning them into wisdom.
15. Take the fork
Yogi Berra once said, “When you come to the fork in the road, take it” … meaning: it doesn’t matter which direction you choose as long as you keep moving.
16. Start over
Every disappointment is an opportunity to start over. A white piece of paper. And if this time you still can’t color within the lines, you get another blank sheet, as many new beginnings as you want.
17. Be gentle
Don’t scream at yourself. Speak to yourself with loving kindness, the same way you would to your friend who was just dealt a big, fat, unfair blow.
18. Get directions
Oprah Winfrey was taken off the air in Baltimore at the start of her career, then she was given a shot at a talk show. Says Oprah: “I have learned that failure is really God’s way of saying, ‘Excuse me, you’re moving in the wrong direction’.”
19. Dance in the rain
My mom once told me, “You can’t wait for the storm to be over. You have to learn how to dance in the rain.”
20. Believe in miracles
I’ve witnessed enough miracles in my life to know they happen … usually when I least expect it.
21. Hang on to hope
There is one thing that never, ever disappoints. And that’s hope. Hold on to it forever.