Disappointment is an Opportunity

06/13/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

So this is the month that thousands of high school seniors (and their hovering parents) find out from colleges if they've been accepted or rejected. There are only two reactions most of them will have: unbridled joy or deep disappointment.

I remember those letters well, for better and for worse, and I'm reliving the experience right now, around a different drama.

Late last week, I met with a producer who has the power to put me on a television talk show. It's an opportunity that would go a long way towards bringing the book I'm about to publish -- The Way We're Working Isn't Working -- to much wider public attention.

I've gone through a version of this same audition a number of times in recent weeks. When you're out trying to promote a new book, it's not unlike waiting to hear from colleges, or applying for jobs in this difficult economy. Along the way, you're bound to experience a fair share of rejection.

That's always the risk of putting yourself on the line -- of reaching for something you want when someone else has the power to decide whether you get it.

The real challenge isn't to avoid vulnerability -- we can't achieve anything meaningful without taking risks -- but how best to deal with the occasions when we don't get what we want. Managing difficult emotions more skillfully lies at the heart of the work we do with people every day with our clients at The Energy Project.

We can't avoid experiences of regret and disappointment, but we can learn to squander less energy on them.

One of the most powerful lessons I've learned is that what seems like a bad outcome isn't necessarily so.

"Negative events do affect us," Daniel Gilbert writes in Stumbling on Happiness, "but they generally don't affect us as much or for as long as we expect them to." In short, we're terrible forecasters of the future.

Seven years ago, I awoke to a call from a man I'd thought of as my partner and close friend in the best job I'd ever had. He told me he didn't think he could work with me anymore.
We'd been struggling with one another in recent months, but I was stunned. I'd never been fired from anything. I couldn't imagine ever finding a job as satisfying as this one had been.

Within 24 hours, I made a pact with myself. I wasn't going to wallow in anger and regret. Instead, I was determined to view this turn of events as an opportunity.

Within three months, I'd founded the company I now run. I never looked back. Losing that job was one of the best things that ever happened to me.

Think about it: when was the last time something happened in your life that seemed disappointing, even devastating in the moment, but turned out, at some point, to be a blessing in disguise?

What's your story? Mine's still unfolding. I'll keep you posted.