You don’t get anywhere in life without experiencing disappointment. If you push the envelope even a little, it comes with the territory. The more you push, the more disappointment you experience. You can always lower your expectations, but then you’re not pushing the envelope as much, and that in turn hurts your career.

I’m afraid there’s no way around it: A life well lived is full of disappointment.

In due course, you’ll likely be disappointed by everyone from bosses and employees to customers and vendors. You’ll be disappointed about jobs you don’t get, business you don’t win and coworkers who say one thing and do another. And if you have a strong work ethic and take pride in meeting your commitments, you’ll be most disappointed by those who don’t.

That’s just the way it is. You have to find a way to deal with it that works for you. It never gets easier, but you either get used to it or it grates on your nerves until you’ve had enough. That’s when you quit and try something else, hopefully with less disappointment. Good luck with that.

The common thread in all those disappointments is that they relate to you. You may be disappointed with the behavior of others, but you’re mostly disappointed in how their behavior affects you – your job, your performance, your compensation, your career.

At some point, that begins to change. If the stars align, you will someday accumulate enough wealth to become financially independent, and those disappointments won’t matter so much anymore. The amount of wealth varies, but in the business world, we call that f-you money.

Even then, you still don’t get to leave disappointment behind. Nope. Rather, you’ll start to become disappointed by organizations. Government agencies. Regulators. School administrators. Road associations. Bureaucrats who just want to take, take, take and leave only frustration in their wake.

In recent years, I’ve noticed another shift in the source of my disappointment. I’m no longer disappointed in how others’ behavior affects me, but rather, how their behavior affects them.

As a strategic advisor, I see senior-level people — current and up-and-coming executives, business leaders, entrepreneurs — with great potential do the easy thing instead of the right thing. In spite of my flawless advice (of course), I see them make bad decisions that will harm their careers and their companies. I see that a lot. And yes, it is very disappointing.

Don’t get me wrong; that sort of disappointment isn’t new to me. But since my fortunes are unlikely to change, at least not materially, and my job is more about helping others than helping myself, it’s simply taken on greater importance.

I’m sure some of you are thinking, “Who is he to judge?” Just so you know, I’m not judging. Hell, I’ve been there myself. It’s just disappointing to watch.

I suppose that’s the argument for retirement, but that’s not for me. I’m a working dog. It’s what I love. For me, it‘s the argument for focusing more on writing than consulting – so I’m at least at arm’s length from those who insist on shooting themselves in the foot. I’ll always know they’re out there, I just won’t have to experience them up close and personal.

I guess I’m just not ready to give up on the more intimate person-to-person interaction that comes from working with clients, at least not yet. As long as some of them reach for the stars and show what they’re really made of, I guess I can live with the occasional disappointment. As long as there’s a balance. That is the key.

Image credit Britt-knee via Flickr

  • Deborah Petty

    Perfect, and dead on accurate. I love the phrase “I just won’t have to experience them up close and personal”. That’s the best place in life to be. Along with the f-money

  • Urszula Kotowska

    Thank you, Steve, for this article. It is wierdly soothing to realize that everybody gets disappointed at times (however horrible it sounds). I think the fact that you have such a visceral reaction to your clients’ flawed decisions only proves that you put your heart to the work you do. 🙂 What keeps disappointing me is people’s shortsightedness when they compromise ethics and act selfishly just to get petty gains (to my mind). I try to tell myself then that I don’t see the whole picture and I shouldn’t judge, that we’re all on the learning curve, but sometimes it just doesn’t seem to work… And I hope there’s is a way around it because it can be very discouraging at times… Well, all the best to you, though!

    • Steve Tobak

      I’m afraid you probably are seeing the whole picture, Urszula. There’s a lot of “selfishness” going around, these days. It’s like an epidemic. We naturally gravitate to those who are like us, but you can’t usually choose your coworkers … or family, for that matter. 😉 I think it helps to have a good sense of humor.

      • Urszula Kotowska

        😀 How true. Thank you for the reminder! I needed it badly! 😉