Getting over specific disappointments
April 10, 2005 7:22 PM   Subscribe

How do you get over specific disappointments in your life? I don't mean general depression, but dealing with the aftermath of a particular failure.

I'm in law school and we just had our Moot Court competition. After a lot of preparation and practice, I made it to the final round and was feeling really confident, but I just found out that I didn't make the final cut. Now I feel angry, frustrated, and sluggish. I know in the grand scheme of things that this isn't that big of a deal and that many suffer far worse, but it doesn't change how I feel. Time heals all wounds, but do you have any tips on speeding up the process?
posted by Falconetti to Health & Fitness (28 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Though this isn't the most politically-correct answer, but treating myself every once in awhile to some good import beers or a bottle of Bailey's takes the edge off for me. Watch the abuse potential though... it's got to be just an "every now and then" remedy. If it's something more serious it's probably better to find some healthy activities or a lifestyle change.
posted by rolypolyman at 7:38 PM on April 10, 2005

Hmm...heavy drinking with a few buddies, picking up chicks at the local bar, etc. Tomorrow morning, you'll feel so horrible you won't be able to dwell on your disappointment.

Also, less self-destructively, every time you start beating yourself up about your performance, try to remember one stellar thing you did, and remind yourself that the judges made the wrong choice, but that life goes on.
posted by muddgirl at 7:39 PM on April 10, 2005

It helps to focus on what you did accomplish, rather than what you didn't. Making it to the final round is excellent. You no doubt learned a lot from all the preparation and practice you did. And just because you didn't make the cut doesn't mean you wouldn't have won, were it another group of judges. They're not perfect either, and choosing a winner is hard.

Finally, this is excellent preparation for life. Some days you eat the bear, some days the bear eats you. Especially if you're going to be a lawyer, there isn't one born who has batted 1.000.

Congrats. Ya done good.
posted by mono blanco at 7:41 PM on April 10, 2005

Try to learn from it: was there something you could have done better? was your tone right? did you research enough? did you present it clearly? etc..

There's always lessons we can learn from failures and disappointments if we think about it.
posted by amberglow at 7:42 PM on April 10, 2005

along the same lines of what mono blanco said...

I take solace in knowing how far I did get, how much I did do - especially in comparison to everyone else. There's a study out there that illustrated that the pain of loss is always more severe than the than the joy from gain. It helps to keep that in consideration, and realize that you did better than 98-99% of the general populace. Keep it all in proportion and realize that this is just somebody's judgement with all the politics and personal preferences skewing results on top of regular margins of error.
posted by trinarian at 7:48 PM on April 10, 2005

Accepting that there can only be one #1. And Amber is right ... Failure is the best teacher. Realize now, you aren't going to win every case. Even that Abe Lincoln guy on Law & Order loses them every now and then.
posted by crunchland at 8:02 PM on April 10, 2005

Ugh....I completely empathize. Law school has felt to me like a constant series of disappointments. I recently auditioned to be my section speaker at graduation, and my speech was all about overcoming disappointment. Of course, my speech wasn't chosen. QED.

But as trite as it might sound, you can never succeed if you don't try, and if you keep trying, you'll invariably fail some of the time. Or as Winston Churchill put it, "Success is the ability to go from one failure to another with no loss
of enthusiasm."

It's fabulous that you made it to law school. It's fabulous that you made it to the moot court final round. If you keep reaching this far, aiming as high as you can, you're bound to end up succeeding a lot of the time. So congrats to you for trying, and may your recovery be swift and relatively painless.
posted by equipoise at 8:06 PM on April 10, 2005

I always try and write down a page of notes after every time I give a speech, or have a job interview, or do something substantial that I don't do everyday like that. I keep these text files private, but they help me learn what to do next time and remind myself what worked and what didn't work. It's basically like personal feedback.

The toughest part for me is not beating myself up for forgetting some major thing or thinking "I knew I should have done x instead of y", so I just try to write it down and get it out in a form I can come back to the next time I do that rare thing, so that I can improve.

If that fails to turn a setback into something constructive, I give myself one selfish day. Spent 24 hours doing everything you want to do -- go to your favorite breakfast place, skip work/school and go do something fun you've always wanted to or go do something familiar that you like to do. Then have your favorite meal for dinner and rent your favorite movie. I don't do this often, maybe once a year at most and I always thought it was a goofy idea when someone suggested it to me, but if you live with a partner or have a family, being selfish is something you can't really do and when your life is ruled by compromise these sorts of one-day vacations are a great pick me up.
posted by mathowie at 8:13 PM on April 10, 2005 [2 favorites]

You don't "get over them" like they're an illness - they're just unpleasant emotions that are part of you - and everyone - and you're always gonna experience them throughout your life, so you'd better get used to them and try to learn from them.

Booze and chicks are only going to push those emotions to the side, so you won't learn how to deal with them, and the chances are you'll perpetuate a cycle of minor substance abuse to enable you to deal with emotions you'd prefer not to acknowledge.
posted by forallmankind at 8:16 PM on April 10, 2005

Just call your mom.
posted by LadyBonita at 8:49 PM on April 10, 2005

I try to turn failures into motivation: each is a signpost that says "I am here" today but will say "I was here" some time in the future. The direction and distance between the "am" and the "was" becomes either decay, stagnation, or growth. Choose what it is you want to look back upon.

Alternately, failure is the price of anything worth doing. Those who have never failed deserve no admiration.
posted by DaShiv at 9:19 PM on April 10, 2005 [1 favorite]

First off, what amberglow said. When I find myself disappointed about something, I always try to find the positive lesson. Was failure due to something I did or due to something beyond my control? If it was something I did, what did I do right? What did I do wrong? If it was something beyond my control, was the problem really my reaction to that externality (i.e., was it still my problem)?

Second, context. I ran for editor-in-chief of my law review (we elect our EIC) and lost to a very good friend of mine. Maybe if I'd been at Harvard, I might have been more disappointed, but, then again, simply being on Law Review is an honor. They say there are no points for second best, but that's simply not true in the real world. The skills that got you as far as progressed will serve you a lot longer than any particular achievement (and the corollary: if you find yourself interviewing somewhere that places inordinate weight on one or another achievement, maybe you wouldn't be happy there in the long term anyway).

Third, context again. You're a law student. That means you're a student. Enjoy the relaxed time of law school (really) because the real world is much, much, much more challenging. If you worked before law school, that should be apparent; if you went straight through, take this as a lesson: you win some, you lose some, but you're still alive at the end of the day. You're right: in the grand scheme of things, law school accomplishments don't mean much. Hell, you wouldn't believe the number of people out there who actually look down on the gunners who made it on Moot Court or Law Review... or maybe you would... after all, most of the people in law school don't make Moot Court or Law Review.

Finally, if you're really bummed about this, take that as a sign that you are, in fact, driven to excellence. That's a damn good character trait. You probably have neither a sense of entitlement that the position was yours nor apathy that none of this crap matters. The simple fact that you're willing to address your disappointment speaks more of your character and ability than just about any other reaction would.
posted by socratic at 9:21 PM on April 10, 2005 [1 favorite]

Oh, and, mathowie, I swear to God I'm not kissing ass by saying this, but your comment is one of the best I've seen on an askmefi. What a great methodology... mind if I snatch it for a while?
posted by socratic at 9:23 PM on April 10, 2005

If it's the case that you're a perfectionist - and I'm not assuming you are but you sound a bit like one (i.e. you sound a bit like me) - then it's always worth reminding yourself of this fact from time to time, and also that perfectionism really is a double-edged sword. You get stuff done, but you get bummed when you don't, partly because you can be super-critical of yourself.

Anyway, remedies: for me - hiking/biking somewhere nice can work. Getting a cool new project going can work well too. Basically, doing something to avoid picking over the details of the thing you feel bummed about.
posted by carter at 10:27 PM on April 10, 2005

try to do something else ... you sound like a person who is often accomplishing something ... and once you accomplish some other things, you'll find that you don't dwell on this so much ...

when things don't go right, it's often a good idea to look at yourself ... but i don't think this is a situation that warrants a lot of that
posted by pyramid termite at 10:32 PM on April 10, 2005

Well, you asked how I do it.

I just don't think about it. That's it.

If I can learn from it after I've cooled off (what specific mistakes did I make, etc., as other have mentioned), then I'll probably do that. But there is no sense just stressing over the past, so I don't.

If you're having trouble putting it out of mind, then I suppose you need distractions, of which many good ones have been mentioned.
posted by trevyn at 10:34 PM on April 10, 2005

To be perfectly blunt, I find blaming someone else helps me immensely. With the getting over it part, at least, not the making it a useful experience for the future.

For the next 7 days, allow yourself to think unkind thoughts about the judges and fellow competitors. It'll make you feel better.

Then after that, spend some time analyzing what happened, and how you could have improved your performance.

Example: I lost in the third round of a speaking competition. The first two days after the contest, I argued to myself that the quality of the judging at these things is always terrible and it didn't mean anything. Then, after I'd gotten over the strong emotional response, I spent some time picking apart the fact that I didn't properly frame my argument, which no doubt cost me a lot of points.
posted by jacquilynne at 10:51 PM on April 10, 2005

This expands a little on what you've already said, but it helps me to ask myself: "Will I really give a shit about this in a year (five years, ten years)?" And of course the answer is almost always no. Somehow putting specifics to the long view of things, even if they're exaggerated, makes the present suckitude a little less.

(...either that, or it'll make me think of stupid stuff I did ten years ago. That's not so good.)
posted by Vervain at 10:57 PM on April 10, 2005 [1 favorite]

When I'm disappointed at how something I did turned out, it often helps to remind myself that at least I did what I set out to do. In your case, you took part in the competition like you planned, and you worked hard to prepare for it. It's not like you overslept and missed it, or got stage fright and couldn't go through with it. You were there and you gave it your best, and now it's time to turn to something else. Keep seeing things through in that manner and you'll do well in life.
posted by orange swan at 4:21 AM on April 11, 2005 [1 favorite]

Hey my boyfriend lost in the first round of moot court competition and has been moping around here for a week so maybe you can feel good that you did better than him. With me getting over things like this usually involves one of two things
1. active distractions until I forget about the issue that's bugging me and/or the pain lessens through time alone
2. morning-after quarterbacking where I figure out what I "did wrong" [even though in many cases you did nothing wrong you just weren't as spot-on as whoever did better than you] and figured out how to make it better next time. Once that's figured out, any other dwelling on it is just non-productive.
Side note: learning to deal well with disappointment in law school seems to me to be one of the big things law school is about. Learning to focus on what went right ["all the way to the final round? right on!"] and move on to the next challenge is a skill just like studying for tests and writing memos. I wish you luck.
posted by jessamyn at 4:35 AM on April 11, 2005

Thanks everyone for all the good advice. It is exactly right that one must learn from failure, rather than dwell on it.
posted by Falconetti at 5:19 AM on April 11, 2005


Two thoughts from an artist (and thus someone rather used to failure) - one, I remind myself when I fail that I am still the same person I was before I failed. If I thought I was an okay person last week before I entered a particular competition, then why should I think I'm not okay now that I've lost the competition?

Two, I want to echo 'socratic' - as someone who worked five years as a professional designer before coming to art school, the real world is not as cut-and-dried as the artificial world of schools and competitions. Success in the real world is gained by those who can do well over years, not weeks or days.

Good luck next time!
posted by Slothrop at 12:26 PM on April 11, 2005 [1 favorite]

Lots of good advice here. Here are some thoughts:

A good hug is the best medicine.

Allowing yourself to feel bad, but just for a certain period of time. Fifteen minutes, an hour, etc. But no more.

Don't call your parents. More-than-likely, they're the reason you feel bad (high expectations drilled in at an early age). Besides, unless Joan Crawford is your mother, yours will always tell you you're the best. You need to learn that for yourself.

Slothrop, I like your advice. I'm an artist too and have had to deal with failure quite a bit in my life. But, as many have said, failure does build character.

A good workout is also great medicine. I have found that I can't be mentally exhausted and physically exhausted at the same time. So working out allows me to rest my mind after a failure and that gives me time to adjust.
posted by Taken Outtacontext at 1:41 PM on April 11, 2005

I'm hard on myself, so I have problems focusing on the positive (although it's good advice).

What I've found helps me are setting up small, inevitable successes (like "Yes. I failed at this. But I make a damn good pizza.") and making a very clear, actionable plan for "the next time" and carrying out small steps along the way (like "Yes. I came in 5th in speech team. But today, I'll look at scripts that will be better suited for me" even if the scripts were fine).
posted by Gucky at 2:49 PM on April 11, 2005

I'm not familiar with this particular competition, but if it repeats, and you almost made it this time, you're sure to nail it completely with another year to prepare and then try again. Get mad, get fired up, and get ready to do better next time.

If there is no next time for this one, then be upset, think about it, analyze what you can from it, learn, take responsibility, and then let it go. There's no need to pile a bunch of self-loathing on top of a missed opportunity. You're only setting yourself back by doing that, hurting yourself further. You can actually profit from a "failure" if you learn from it and let it inspire you to become more determined. I know you think you already missed out and it's all over, but you can still do even more damage to yourself by taking it overly hard.

Learn and grow. You took one in the jaw. Don't pretend that you didn't get punched. But roll with the punch.
posted by scarabic at 4:09 PM on April 11, 2005

You should simply accept that you are a miserable failure, that everything good in life is over and done with, and that you will soon be moving into a cardboard box to die alone. Really get into the drama of it all.

Then have a good laugh at yourself for being silly. While disappointing, is this really something that you'll be focused on in 10 years? I thought not. If so, you might want to consider employment at the post office.
posted by gregariousrecluse at 4:47 PM on April 11, 2005 [1 favorite]

It's the art of letting go. If we don't let go of our failures, they become millstones for life. Stop thinking of yourself as invincible. We are all limited. I have found that in America particularly, there is a naive and childish wish to believe that "you can do anything if you put your mind to it".

This is absurd, irrational, puerile nonsense. Of course we should try to achieve our goals and desires - and try hard - but we're flesh and blood. We have limitations. There is only so much we can reasonably do. Life is hard. We must try to make the best of our abilities and potential but we should never, ever believe we can do everything we want. Lose this sort of delusion and you're a good way towards dealing with failure.
posted by Decani at 5:42 PM on April 11, 2005

You were there and you gave it your best, and now it's time to turn to something else.

It may help to consider your criteria for judging yourself. If it is "If I don't win, I'm a failure", then you're limiting yourself to learning from the situation (if there are things to learn) and mitigating it (treating yourself to something, for example).

If your criteria is "If I did my best, then I'm satisfied with myself", then you can come out the other side feeling good about yourself (if you did in fact do your best), regardless of the "objective" result. With this criteria, you can still learn from the an experience (doing your best still allows for gaps in knowledge and skills to become apparent), but you don't make your self-worth depend on what is often simply randomness.

It's also worth keeping in mind that no matter how good you are at anything, there is almost always someone better than you are at doing a particular thing. There are simply too many people in the world for you (or anyone) to be the best moot court debater, the best constitutional law student, the most popular candidate for law journal editor, and so on. Having a goal of being the best (or being perfect, a slightly different thing) is therefore a guarantee of a series of disappointments in the future. You might consider avoiding that. [For this paragraph, on preview - what Decani said.]
posted by WestCoaster at 7:34 PM on April 11, 2005

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