When life doesn’t go the way you planned, it can make you feel like a failure. For example, I decided at a young age to be a writer. But when I graduated and started sending out queries and receiving rejections, the alienation and isolation of the writing life took a toll.
I lacked confidence to pursue my passion because it looked different than a regular nine to five job. I had surrounded myself with people who questioned my choices. And that made me second-guess myself and the value of my heart’s desire.
Without the necessary supports in place, I pushed my passion to the backburner and took a regular job instead. I put my writing on life support rather than giving it the care and attention it deserved. As a result, I lost years doing work that left me feeling empty inside.
If you can relate to feelings of regret over the path your life has taken, here are three strategies to overcome those disappointments and move forward.
Avoid blaming others.
When life doesn’t go the way you planned you have two choices. You can externalize by looking outward, or you can internalize by looking within. Internalizing means keeping the focus on yourself and what you did or didn’t do that made your life go off track.
Externalizing means looking outside yourself for explanations for your disappointments. You point the finger of blame at other people or situations rather than looking inside. To be honest, most of us do a combination of externalizing and internalizing. And sometimes there are external forces at work that make it harder for us to get ahead.
But that doesn’t change the fact that we made the decision to give up on our dreams. If you blame others when life doesn’t go the way you planned, you give away your power. If you ruminate over what other people have or haven’t done, you create resentments that make it hard to move forward and keep you mired in regret from the past.
Forgive yourself when life doesn’t go the way you planned.
When life doesn’t go the way you planned, shame can compound your grief and disappointment. When we experience shame, our first impulse is denial. Feeling like we failed in a relationship or career hurts so much we’d rather deny we messed up at all.
What if, instead, we learned to forgive ourselves for our mistakes? And sought forgiveness from those we may have harmed? Then we could access a deeper level of relating as we seek to make things better in the future than they’ve been in the past.
Once you’ve forgiven yourself and made a commitment to change, don’t let anyone continue to flog or shame you for past transgressions. You deserve the same respect and kindness they do. If you don’t honor yourself by setting appropriate boundaries and teaching people how to treat you, others will sense that and refuse to give you the respect and kindness you deserve.
Learn from the past
One common response to disappointment when life doesn’t go as planned is a mid-life crisis. We’ve all heard the stereotype of the middle-aged man who drives off in his new red convertible, leaving his long-suffering wife behind. What if instead we used a crisis to reflect on the reasons we’ve settled for less than we want in life?
Handled well, a crisis becomes a time to reflect on what we can do differently to create better outcomes in our lives. We can look back at the patterns in our lives and find out what happened right before we made a choice to put our needs and desires to the side. And we can choose to do things differently the next time those triggers come up.
Take some time to sit down and understand yourself. What are your likes and dislikes? What matters most to you in life? The values instilled in you from a young age are not necessarily the same values you want to carry through life. Perhaps it’s time to develop your own set of values, separate and distinct from those around you.
If you’ve lost years or even decades ignoring your heart’s desires, remember it’s never too late to pursue them. After going through this exercise, I took my writing off life support. Since then, I’ve written two books, published many more articles, and, most importantly, do work every day that fulfils me and makes me feel most like myself. I believe no matter where you are on life’s journey, the same can be true for you if you follow these three simple strategies.