If you’re a thoughtful planner, you can understand the deep sense of disappointment that follows when plans change. Even after being let down numerous times in the past, it’s almost impossible not to get our hopes up sometimes when new opportunities arise. Having a stellar job interview, finding the perfect home, getting married to the “perfect” person, or finally becoming pregnant after months (or years) of trying, are all “ups” on the rollercoaster of life.
Let’s start with the example of acing a job interview. Interviewing for a new job is a stressful experience, even for the most confident of job seekers. If it’s a position that we really want, we could easily spend hours or days prepping. Not only is the initial application process a lot of work (searching for jobs, updating the resume, etc.), there’s also all the effort that goes into selecting the perfect outfit, collecting references and preparing stories to share with the interviewer panel.
If you know someone who already works at the company, you may take extra time to reach out and connect beforehand. In order to accommodate the interviewers’ preferred time, you might need to request last minute time off at your current job. It’s not uncommon to be expected to attend multiple rounds of interviews for certain positions. If you splurged on a new suit, drove a distance to get to the interview or invested any amount of time and money towards the process, it’s natural to feel committed and hopeful for a positive result.
When we’re excited about the potential of a new job, we tend to share our excitement with others. You may tell your family or friends about the position and talk about what will happen if you get hired. Visualizing how you will feel when you start the new job, how you will spend a higher salary or just picturing what day-to-day life as an employee will feel like, are all common ways that we can get ahead of ourselves. Unfortunately, no matter how well we plan, things don’t always work out the way we want.
Sometimes the disappointment sets in right away, even during the actual interview itself. If the job was not really what you originally expected it to be, the salary is much lower than you had thought or you choke under the pressure of answering questions, sometimes the letdown begins as soon as you step out the door to head back home. Once you realize what just happened, you may become upset about the change in plans—the loss of a dream job that doesn’t actually exist or that won’t pan out.
There’s also the example of when the opposite happens. You nail the interview. You call all of your family and friends to tell them how great it went. Maybe the interviewers even told you that you are an excellent fit for the position. The next few days or weeks of waiting leave you with optimistic anticipation of a joyous phone call that’s sure to seal the deal.
Days pass by…the phone never rings. Your thoughtful thank you email falls on deaf ears and you receive no response. Eventually, after more follow-up, you are told that another candidate was selected. The news can be confusing, devastating, embarrassing or even frustrating.
It’s not unusual for job seekers to get minimal feedback or explanation for the reasons behind a rejection. The lack of follow-up and closure can leave you feeling utterly…abandoned. Any leftover feelings are yours to bear, with no reciprocation or support from the other end of the process. If you overshared your excitement preemptively, now you must go back and explain to everyone that you didn’t get the job. They will respond compassionately, if you’re lucky. Many times, the response is more flippant. Perhaps they encourage you to get over it and move on. They might say that it’s “not a big deal.”
Despite people’s best intentions, the reality is that their words don’t change the fact that to you, it IS a big deal. You had hopes, expectations and plans for that new job. The physical and emotional effort you invested in the process has seemingly led to nowhere. Those dreams were swiped away in a moment’s notice, sometimes without any justification or understanding to make it easier to adjust to the news.
Unfortunately, life often doesn’t always give us much choice on how things turn out. Despite putting our best foot forward and getting everything in line, we can still be let down. As we gain more life experience, the disappointment may not come with as much of a surprise. But depending on the situation, unexpected changes in plans can still manage to knock us off our feet.
That being said, we encourage you to NOT become someone who simply expects the worst. Pessimism that is born out of fear may seem like a way to protect yourself, but is actually just a negative outlook that can hold you back from taking risks and exploring new possibilities in your life. The more times we successfully work through the grief of disappointment, the more we practice building that skill. We develop resilience by facing adversity and coming out stronger on the other side, but we can only do that when we acknowledge and work through our grief. Rather than diminishing the initial sadness from rejection, allow yourself to feel the feelings. Acknowledge the hopes that you are now putting to rest. Burying your grief by pretending that everything is fine does not lead to true healing or growth. Addressing it and choosing to move on are active ways to achieve emotional health.
This example highlights the many faces of grief. Grief does not only happen after death. It is normal to go through a period of grieving after we lose an opportunity. When our life changes course in a direction that we didn’t expect or desire, we can experience grief. Even when we know that a new job offer or opportunity isn’t guaranteed, our hearts can still run away with a fantasy of the future.
We may start thinking about all the things that will happen once we start that new position (or move into that new home or walk down the aisle). It’s okay to idealize our vision of the future and to get excited about things. That’s part of the magic of everyday life. However, we also need tools to help us move forward when things don’t work out as planned. These are tools that we will need for a lifetime. Afterall, life is full of ups and downs. The better we get at handling the Downs, the sooner we can regain control over our emotions and start planning again for more Ups.