Dealing with Disappointment

It was a bright spring day in 2014. My daughter was five at the time, and we were spending the early afternoon where we often did: at the park.

She had recently graduated to the “big kid playground,” which had a giant, enclosed slide, fast swings . . . and a set of tall monkey bars that looked impossibly imposing for her tiny frame.

I should tell you that my girl has always been fiercely independent. Strong-willed. Determined. On this particular day, she focused all her attention on those towering metal bars. She climbed the ladder and launched herself forward, swinging arm over arm, using all her powers of mental and physical focus.

I can be a hovering dad at times. But in this case, I watched helplessly as she lost her grip and face-planted right into the wood chips. As you can tell from the photo, it was a long way to fall.

I picked her up, dried her tears, brushed the wood chips from her face and mouth, figuring this was the end of our day at the park. But she had other plans.

I watched in amazement as she climbed right back up the ladder onto the bars. For the next fifteen minutes—without exaggeration—she pulled herself back and forth, from rung to rung. Nothing could stop her from conquering her fears and breaking her barriers. She ended up getting blisters on her hands; only then would she call it a day.

WHEN YOU FALL OFF THE MONKEY BARS

They say that if you fall off a horse, you’ve got to get right back on it and ride. If a pitcher brushes you back with a 99-mile-per-hour fastball, you’ve got to dig in even closer to the plate for the next one. Disappointment and failure are part of the human condition, but then again, so are hard work, grit, and fortitude.

There have been plenty of times I’ve “fallen off the monkey bars” as a leader. You probably have, too. Sometimes you reach for a goal and fall short. Sometimes you’re limited by circumstances, or by others’ decisions. Sometimes people let you down. Sometimes your big dream turns into one big misunderstanding.

When you fall, it’s easiest to blame other people. It’s natural to make excuses. You might not think of it as “giving up,” but you can be so hurt by the experience that you’re afraid to give 100 percent of yourself again. You’re scared to put yourself out there in case the same thing happens again.

The truth is, disappointment puts you in an important place: complete dependence. When you fall short, you have no choice but to trust God with the next step (or the next rung, if you will).

So how do you deal with disappointment?

GETTING BACK UP

Find out what went wrong. Don’t be afraid to evaluate and isolate the problem. Otherwise you’re bound to repeat it. (In a way, that looks a lot like giving up.)

Own your part. Ask questions and learn what you could have done better. Be honest, open, and curious. See what you can learn about yourself in the process.

Lead others through the pain. Disappointment and failure don’t have to demoralize a team. Make sure your teammates feel safe and supported by praising their efforts publicly. Lead by example: share what you’ve learned the hard way, and help them learn and grow from the experience as well.

My daughter still has a habit of battling through adversity, just like she did that day on the playground. I think that’s what good leaders do. They reach, they risk, and they rise.

WANT MORE?

For more on how to get back up after a fall, check out Don’t Quit, for leaders who want to develop their leadership grit. Join the Don’t Quit Workshop, online Thursdays, September 6-27. Register and find out more at Don’tQuitBook.com.

For more on helping kids discover how to live more confidently (even after a fall), check out Amped, a devotional for elementary-age kids. Get “Amped Conversation Starters” for parents, only from Orange. Visit AmpedDevo.com for details.

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