Recently, I suffered a big disappointment. It felt like a physical blow to the chest. I was reeling with pain and shock.
In a moment I will share what happened and the six steps I took to recover from it. It is important to deal with disappointments in a good way, so they don’t block you from what your heart desires. So you are free to create your best art and your best life.
All artists and dreamers face disappointment in our lives. It is the nature of the game. If we dare to dream big, if we have big hopes and aspirations, if we pour our hearts and souls into our beloved creations and have the courage to share them with others, we can also fall hard, fail spectacularly, and be deeply disappointed.
This truth is a main reason why many people stop themselves from dreaming at all or daring to follow their heart’s dreams and their soul’s callings. Why so many people feel a hole in the center of their lives, something vital that is missing.
If no one dared to dream big, if no one dared to create art from their heart’s rich store and share it with others, our world would be a very bland, cold, and brutal place. That’s why it is so important to learn how to deal with disappointment, why we need to learn how to “fail better,” as the saying goes.
A Story of Disappointment and a Metaphor for Art and Life
When I was twelve years old, I took horseback riding lessons. One day, while learning how to ride over a series of jumps, the horse threw me off her back. I went sailing through the air and landed in the mud. I was startled and shaken, but unhurt. The instructor told me to get right back on the horse and try again. She said it was very important that I do this, for two reasons: First, so I would not be afraid to ride again. Second, so the horse would know she couldn’t throw me and get out of going over those big jumps. So the horse knew I would not give up so easily.
That horse is your art or your dream for your life.
When Things Don’t Go As You Hope
Earlier this year, I applied for an Individual Artist Grant from the California Arts Council. I worked so long and hard on the application, refining every bit of it, getting feedback from others. Somehow I thought for sure I would get this grant.
And I felt that I needed it both financially, and, even more importantly, as a leg up in my creative career. Getting this grant would be a validation that I hoped would open doors to other grants, awards, and opportunities. I have been working so intensely on writing for decades without much recognition or support. So this grant opportunity had a lot riding on it for me.
By now you have figured out that I did not get the grant. I felt stunned when I read the email and so disappointed.
I have dealt with a great deal of disappointment in my creative life. I have applied for many things that I have not received, and opened hundreds of rejection letters from literary journals to which I submitted my writing. Of course, I have also received wonderful acceptances and opportunities, had many publications, been invited to give readings more times than I can count.
This was not one of those moments. This was a bitter, painful disappointment.
How I Recovered Myself and My Art
Here is what I did to deal with it and get back on the horse.
1) I let myself feel the feelings all the way through.
This is so important. I didn’t stuff them, minimize them, or try to make myself wrong for having them. I cried. I swore. I banged my fist. I paced around to move the energy. And I met the feelings with love and compassion.
2) I shared the experience with trusted others.
I texted my husband at work immediately. His beautiful, quick reply was perfect. “I’m so sorry, sweetie. Your time will come.”
I also shared about it with my patrons on Patreon the next day, when the feelings were still raw. One of the things I love so much about Patreon is that, because it is a private group, I can share intimately about my creative life, projects, and works-in-process.
Sharing the feelings helps air them out and not let them fester. And I want my patrons to know the truth about the ups of downs of a creative life. I received lovely messages from several patrons in response.
3) I paid attention to what I was making it mean.
Yes, I was disappointed not to get the grant, but what was causing the real suffering was what I was telling myself about it. “I will always be passed over. I will never be recognized for my art. Other people always get the awards, and I don’t.”
I noticed the old false beliefs and painful wounds connected to these stories. I have a wound around feeling invisible, unseen, unheard, under-appreciated that goes back to my childhood. Unfortunately, I also have a deep-seated fear of being too visible that connects to my family heritage. It creates a bad double-bind.
Out of this old pattern, I have tended to re-create invisibility, or lack of recognition, for myself in painful ways. Having that old pattern and false belief triggered by not getting the grant was what was causing the most suffering. I could see that.
Recognizing the old patterns and where they come from, I could question the old stories and see that they are coming up in order to be healed.
4) I gathered helpful information.
Thanks to sharing on Patreon, my dear friend Molly texted me to express her condolence, and she shared an essential piece of information that made all the difference.
She told me how I could access a list of all the applicants and who got the grant. (The Arts Council was sharing this list.) I was stunned to discover that many writers and artists who are way more famous than me, and who have done wonderful things, also did not get the grant. These artists, I felt, had considerably more reason than me to be disappointed. This really helped explode the stories I was telling myself.
5) I soothed the feelings and fears.
Not receiving the grant provoked fears about money, as well as about never getting the recognition I long for and need in order to have a more thriving creative career. I had to meet those fears and soothe them, let them know what’s really true, or more true, both about my current situation and my future prospects.
When we are inside of old stories, limiting patterns, beliefs, and fears, we filter outer evidence so that we tend to only see, or see more of, what supports our limiting beliefs. And we ignore evidence to the contrary of our limiting beliefs.
So, I needed to have compassion for my hurt, and show myself what was actually true, contrary to my fears. I have enough funds right now to cover my needs. I have received other forms of recognition. I am growing in my art and life, working on healing these patterns. The future is unknown. All I can do is work and play towards what I love and dream.
6) I got back on the horse.
The very next morning I was in my studio at my regular creative time, writing, working on my next book. I keep doing what I love, what matters most to me.
Whether you have experienced a recent disappointment or one in the distant past that you still carry, these same steps can help you to feel, heal, and move forward. Learning how to deal with disappointment is essential to a healthy, thriving creative life and to living your heart’s big dreams. For the benefit of all beings.
I invite you to share a take-away from this post below. What spoke to you most? What can you use in your own life?
Thank you Max. I am once again, astounded at your authenticity and courage to dive deep into your experience and share it in such a meaningful and helpful way. I too just went through a very painful, confusing, and disappointing experience and am on a similar path in trying to grow and evolve from it. It meant so much to me to read your post, and feel affirmed and encouraged. A life-line really. The good news is that I am a full-time artist again, and happily in my studio sketching images of self-love, healing, and expansive joy. Bless you! Please know what a gift your art and your newsletters are to so many.
Thank you so much for this. I’m sorry to hear you also went through a painful disappointment. And it does truly seem to be part of the path. I am so happy to hear you are back to being a full-time artist and enjoying it. Your art brings such beauty and blessing to the world.
One more comment. In the “Gathering Helpful Information” phase, I found it helpful to look myself in the mirror and tell myself that I am proud of myself for having courage to try something new, giving it my best, having the best of intentions, etc. etc. And really feeling that sense of honor and accomplishment coming from myself, knowing it as my truth. That is information and a gift we can give ourselves.
That’s wonderful. Such a good practice.