I‘m a naturally upbeat person. Even so, there have been times in my life when I've been especially discouraged. Some of these times are fleeting — like when I was not selected to win this trip to the Black Enterprise Entrepreneurs’ Conference earlier this year.
Other discouragements have been more jarring and long lasting — like when my husband was laid off of his job when our youngest child was just 16 months old. As I look back over the past several years of my life, I have begun to see a pattern of behaviors that work together to lift me when I'm down. I'm sharing them with you in the hopes that they may help you pick yourself up when you're discouraged.
- Grieve. First, grieve the disappointment. When I didn't win the Black Enterprise trip, I paused and said, “Well, shoot, that's a bummer. I did a really good job competing, so what's up with that?” I visited the conference website, looked at the speaker lineup, and mourned my missed opportunity. It took about five minutes. Then I went over to the winner's website and celebrated with her.
But when my husband lost his job, five minutes became five months. I cried a river. Being the sole provider for a household of four was not in my plan, and I let the Universe know about it on no uncertain terms. It was a very emotional time. How could this happen to me? I had a fairly extended pity party.
Whether you cry a river, an ocean, or a stream, or just have a few moments of, “Dang!,” don't skip this step.
But don't stay here long either.
- Identify the source of your discouragement. Once you finish with the emotional grieving, try to identify exactly why you are so discouraged. In the case of the missed conference trip, I was missing an all expenses paid trip to Chicago to spend a few days surrounded by entrepreneurs — which is heaven on earth for me. In the grand scheme of things, it wasn't a big deal. I go to entrepreneurial events all the time. As a result, it was not terribly hard to let go of the disappointment and move on.
But the job loss situation was a bigger deal. I began to think about exactly why I was discouraged. After all, it wasn't me who had lost a job. Also, it wasn't like we were, or would become, destitute. An important part of picking myself up was nailing down exactly what was bothering me. I eventually traced my feelings back to two things: sadness because of the life I would no longer have, and fear of the unknown.
What would it be like to be at home all day with kids while my husband looked for a job? Would we have to give up the nanny I had come to rely on? (The answer, thankfully, was “no.”) Would I have to give up creature comforts — turn the heat down and wear more sweaters, shut off the cable, give up eating out altogether? How would I run my business if we could no longer afford to hire help? The list of things to be discouraged about was long, but there they were, staring me in the face. It was a depressing, but necessary part of moving on.
After all, you have to know where you are before you can pick yourself up and go where you are going.
- Get out of the house. When life gobsmacks you, it is tempting to hole up in your house in bunny slippers and pajamas and refuse to look at the world. This is especially easy when you have babies because they don't really care either way. You can sit around with them in pajamas all day and no one will complain. So, I did this for a while, and then decided I'd had enough. I started getting out of the house — and not with my children.
We had a nanny at the time, so I just hired her for extra hours so she could watch the kids when I wasn't working, so I could just go out. My grief followed me around a bit, but being among people helped a lot.
Be careful not to do this step in such a way that you are escaping whatever problem you have to deal with. I did this for a while. I found myself going out all the time, just to do nothing in particular except not be at home. Doing this is good now and then, but I eventually realized that I was wasting a lot of time that could have been used to make my situation better. I also started eating out a lot, sort of escaping the overwhelm and drowning my sorrows in comfort food. Again, not a big deal now and then, but not something you want to make a habit.
Getting out of the house is important because it helps you leave your comfort zone and continue to experience the fullness of life and human relationships. The sooner you start doing this the better. Just make sure you're not only running away from something.
Run toward something too.
- Run toward something. Set your sights on some new goals. Maybe things didn't work out the way you thought they would. You didn't win the competition. You didn't get the sale. He didn't ask you to the dance. Your spouse disappointed you. Whatever it is, you've got to find other things in your life to get excited about.
Take up a new fitness activity. Sign up for a fun cooking class. Learn how to belly dance. Join a local social group with interests similar to yours.
If you are an entrepreneur, set some new business goals. More money won't solve all of your problems, but it will make them easier to deal with. Use your business to create new ways to generate more excitement, enthusiasm and income in your life.
As you do this, your confidence will increase. As your confidence increases, so will your ability to deal with the next gobsmack.
- Let it go. As your confidence builds, you will see that you can replace whatever disappointment you have with a new set of life expectations. Maybe you won't marry the guy you thought, but you can still have a great life without him. Maybe you will no longer be a two income family, but you can prepare yourself to lead the best one-income family you possibly can. Maybe you won't go to Chicago for the business conference, but you can enter a competition to win an even better trip.
These feelings of optimism generally won't just happen. You have to work for them. You have to take the small steps outlined above to get you to the point where you can build your confidence to the level where you can begin to look at life through new eyes. You've got to be able to see that your “new normal” is only as bad as you allow it to become.
This is hard work, and it's painfully difficult. But you can do it. You have to.
Reminder: I'm not formally or professionally qualified to tell you how to handle your discouragement. I'm just sharing from my own personal experiences what has worked for me, and what continues to work today — in disappointments both big and small.
But sometimes, discouragement can become so debilitating that professional help is warranted. Don't hesitate to ask for help if you feel you need it. And if you don't feel you need it, but your trusted friends and family members think you do, listen to them. They are probably right. If discouragement turns into depression, it can be chronic and miserable. Ask an objective physician or spiritual mentor for help.
Question: What do you do when you are discouraged? How do you handle it, and move on?