Deepening Despair Meets Gratitude

Mike Gellman

When we have dreams that have been dashed and don’t materialize as we wished, it’s natural to feel disappointed and sad. We may even feel like a failure, especially after working so hard to make it happen. Like a novice surfer who patiently waits for that perfect wave that never appears or the sailor who is met with an anemic breeze, it’s difficult to accept realities after we’ve gotten our hopes up.

In our careers, there are plenty of opportunities for similar disappointment. Perhaps we didn’t get the raise we asked and hoped for, or we didn’t get the job that we felt was designed just for us, or the job we did get hasn’t turned out the way we initially imagined.

We end up in the “if only” trap. “If only I had said something different to the boss.” “If only they had invited me in for an interview I would have convinced them why I was the perfect candidate.” or “if only I had done more research.” We start to blame others or ourselves. When we latch onto the “if only” thinking, we basically keep ourselves in the past rather than focusing on the present and noticing what opportunities available to us now.

Alternatively, we can dig ourselves out of the “if only” trap by shifting our focus to our blessings and what is going “right” for us at this moment. This is a gratitude mindset. For example, the “waveless” surfer could enjoy the warm rays of the sun and be thankful for the connection with the planet’s tidal forces while the “breezeless” sailor can appreciate the solitude and sereneness of the calm sea. Meanwhile the “raise seeker” can appreciate having a stable job and the opportunity to ask his boss again in the future, the “job seeker” can take comfort in having the clarity of focus in what he or she wants and that eventually things will break his or her way, while the “disillusioned worker” can practice self-kindness and recognize that some things are beyond his or her control.

Letting go of our dreams (as we originally imagined) is often the most difficult part. The most seasoned sailors in life and careers focus on making the most of the conditions we face and “sail on” while appreciating the journey along the way. We can still pursue our dreams and take some measure of assurance that there are often many routes that can lead us to manifesting them. And what opportunities we have to chart a different course to reach our future destination! Or a new destination altogether!

Is “if only” thinking keeping you stuck?