What do you do when your business idea you were sure would flourish has flopped? Or when that fantastic new job turns out to be a dud?
Most of us take great comfort in planning our lives. We set goals and are proud when we achieve them. While it would be great if life always turned out the way we wanted, the reality is, most of us will experience disappointment at some point in our lives and may even end up with what life coach Christine Hassler calls an “expectation hangover.”
“Some of our greatest suffering happens when our realities doesn’t match up with our expectations,” says Hassler. In her book Expectation Hangover: Overcoming Disappointment in Work, Life, and Love, Hassler talks about her own experience with career disappointment. As a young entertainment agent, Hassler had a corner office, an assistant, and expense account by the age of 25 and even spent one memorable New Year’s Eve in the presence of George Clooney. From the outside, her reality seemed to match up perfectly with the goals she’d set for herself; yet, Hassler was miserable.
The reason? She hadn’t just expected to be successful (which she certainly was), she’d also expected happiness and self-worth to come from that success.
“An expectation hangover is what happens when something doesn’t turn out the way you wanted or when you don’t get the anticipated satisfaction from achieving a result,” says Hassler, who ended up quitting her unfulfilling job.
The disappointment we feel when something in our lives doesn’t match up to our expectations produces hangover-like symptoms. We have a sense of regret, our head is achy from thinking and re-thinking, we may have a lack of motivation, depression, diminished creativity and lower productivity. While greasy food may be the cure to an alcohol-inflicted hangover, Hassler says an expectation hangover requires a slightly different treatment plan:
“What disappointment offers us is a way to become more responsible for our own lives,” says Hassler. She argues disappointment isn’t a bad thing, or even something to be avoided. In fact, she says it’s through her greatest disappointments that she’s achieved her greatest successes. While you may be tempted to drown your disappointment by distracting yourself, Hassler says recognizing the disappointment is the first step to growing from it.
Rather than ask “why is this happening to me?” Hassler says we should ask “what am I learning from this?” Think of your disappointment as an opportunity for change. A new job that turns out to be underwhelming may lead you to change your behavior at work or to open a conversation with your boss so that your job description is based on an agreement, rather than expectations.
This is a big one for Hassler who argues disappointments are often a result of putting too much pressure on external factors for feelings of satisfaction. “If you make your job responsible for your entire fulfilment, that’s a lot of pressure to put on a job. I think we have to look at fulfilment as our internal job and look at our job as a way to express our greatest gifts, talents, experiences as a way that we can make an impact, but the fulfillment has to come from within,” she says.
Part of why we suffer from expectation hangovers is that we set unachievable, unrealistic expectations for ourselves. “We compare ourselves to everyone in the external world, and social media, instead of looking at what we really want in our own lives,” says Hassler. Before setting expectations, think about your own values and set goals that reflect those, rather than looking at what everyone else has or expects of you.