How to Deal with Disappointment


It’s weird how you can be merrily be rolling along when something you don’t want to happen, happens.

I was in the eighth grade when my family moved from Seattle to Arizona. Middle school is an awkward time, and I was just hitting my stride socially and emotionally. Suddenly I found myself leaving my friends and life for a place with virtually no racial diversity—very different from Seattle. I was initially regarded as somewhat of a freak.

Even so, I managed to adjust to Arizona, and after two years, my dad’s Boeing assignment was done, so we were able to return to Seattle. When we got home, everything was different. Our house had been rented, and the yard, which had always been meticulously maintained, had been completely neglected. In fact, as we drove up to the house, Caesar, a neighborhood kid, was playing with friends and popped his head up from the tall grass that, much to the chagrin of our neighbors, used to be our lawn.

The worst disappointment was learning my parents were going to divorce. At that time, divorce was shameful. Asians stayed unhappily married forever rather than cast shame on their families. But my dad had fallen in love with another woman.

I was embarrassed to be from a "broken home." I knew people talked about us. There was nothing I could do to alter the situation, so I just kept forging ahead, maintaining my grades, and taking after school and weekend jobs to help. I was thinking of my own misery and not thinking about the deeper humiliation my mom must have been experiencing.

As harsh as it was to have divorced parents and to live a new life at poverty level, I filled out my own college applications, applied for grants and ended up at a community college because it was the only school that offered me money.

Working my way through college was amazing accomplishment, but I’ve often wished I could say I’d had financial support from my family.

Many parents today want to avoid subjecting their kids to negative fallout. Not just in instances like divorce, but in any challenges their kids could face where there is a potential of disappointment.

Today I was talking with a friend about her disabled child. Despite the disability, her son is able to attend college part time. taking one to two classes each quarter. In his classes, he performs at an exceptional level.

She believes her son should be on the Dean’s list because he maintains a 3.7 GPA. But the school has a rule that says students must be full-time students in order to be considered for the Dean’s list, so he isn’t eligible.

My friend is upset because she feels her son is disabled, and therefore not subject to the rules that govern able-bodied kids. That said, able-bodied kids taking a full load also have a challenge—juggling the work that comes with taking additional credits.

She will fight tooth and nail to change the school’s policy, and knowing how smart and tenacious she is, there is a good chance she will succeed.

It’s frustrating and sad to have a child who is less abled, and to see rules in place that exclude them from prizes and recognition. But is it the child’s disappointment, or the parent’s?

Her story came on the heels of a discussion with a colleague yesterday about the tendency for today’s parents to protect their children from failure and disappointment. Preemptively smoothing paths for children is well-intentioned, but I think can be a disservice because it impedes opportunities for children to learn to resolve problems on their own.

A disabled child is very different than an able-bodied child. But in both cases, there is a certainty — at some point everyone experiences disappointment.

We’ll never become desensitized to disappointment, whatever the cause. Things will always happen that we don't want to happen. My wise friend, York, offers an answer: "Hope for the best, but prepare for the worst." These are words I’ve come to live by.


POSTSCRIPT: My friend was successful in forcing the University of Washington to change their policy, and it now allows part-time students to be included on the Dean's List.


  1. Wow, what an emotional post. Loved to read a story from your life that made me feel closer to you! I wish all the luck to this kid and all energy to mother to fight with unfair rules.

    1. Dear Diana,

      Thank you for your sincere reply to this post. I do wish luck to my friend, but hearing her arguments, I could see some of the obstacles that might get in the way. I shared York's wisdom thinking it might help her to avoid feeling a lot of disappointment.
      Much love to you, and thank you again!

  2. Dear Terri,
    It's insightful to read your youthful story and how you have transformed it over time. It shows one of the ways you're so resilient and the personal history that's behind it. Beautiful.
    Playful blessings,

    1. Dear Stan,

      Thanks for taking the time to visit my blog and to leave such a thoughtful comment.

      It’s great to have fun and joke around, and I’m glad I have the chance to do that with you and our little Twitter posse. But we don't see much depth on social media. I've often said to my kids, every person has a story. That includes the friend who, by the way, was successful in getting her kid on the Dean’s list!

      I’m so grateful we have had the chance to meet in person. There is a magical transformation that takes place when that happens. It forever changes a relationship, and in our case, for the better!

      Warm hugs, Terri

  3. Anonymous6:46 PM

    Great post, Terri Nakamura! I had a pretty crappy week at work, but this was the perfect thing to read! When life gives you lemons, you make lemonade!
    - Darkhorse C

  4. Dear DHC,

    It was such a wonderful surprise to find your comment here. Thanks for reading and taking the time to respond.

    I'm sorry you've had a crappy week at work. I've had a number of not-so-great things happen, too. But I've found it doesn't help to dwell on negative events and people. We give them energy when we spend time thinking about them.

    So instead I hope you can redirect your thoughts to something you enjoy. That's what I'm trying to do, and although it's not always successful, it's more successful than it would have been if I allowed negative things to dominate my mind.


  5. As long as I've known you, Terri, I didn't know some of these things about you that have helped to shape you into the wonderful person that you are today. It harkens back to your post about resilience and I think helps explain your amazing ability to sympathize with others. I'm happy to hear that your friend got the rules changed for her disabled son. I really think that he deserves special consideration. XO

    1. Dear Jennifer,

      You're such a great friend. Thank you for your feedback here.

      I have been feeling ambivalent about the friend who was able to change the system. On one hand, a true disability should be given consideration. But it opens the possibility of subjectively deciding what is and isn't a disability.

      For example, is ADHD a disability? If so, half the kids in school today might qualify.

      There is also the notion that kids are either !) not interested in or 2) not able to wage their own battles when it comes to fighting for change.

      Still, I know the friend feels overwhelming happiness for her victory, and happiness is what we're all seeking!

      Love, Terri

  6. First off, I can't see you in Arizona, but that's beside the point.

    Because I work in education, I'm quick to judge this parent who wants school policy changed for her child. Most school policies are thoughtfully considered and are aimed at encouraging students, not shutting them out, and also rewarding hard work. I don't agree that part time and full time student work is the same, but who am I to question the Huskies? (Go Cougs!)

    Regarding disappointment, I've never lost out on something that I didn't feel I also got something out of. Putting yourself out there, taking risks and seeing what happens is living to me. While I may not always like the outcome, there is always reward in trying. Just like Julie Andrews said in Sound of Music, "Whenever God closes a door, somewhere he opens a window." Cue the music....

    1. Peek,

      Thanks so much for reading this and commenting. You have a lot of experience in the education sector, so it's especially meaningful to read your response.

      Personally, I had problems with my friend's efforts. I felt as you do — that there are reasons why specific requirements are identified to "reward" students who make exceptional effort to achieve.

      And I'm so on the same page with you regarding disappointment. We learn from every experience, even when the experience is painful.

      This all harkens back to parents who insert themselves into a situation on their child's behalf. To my knowledge, the son didn't even care about the Dean's List — it was his mom who felt he deserved it, and intimidated the UW into changing its policy.

      By loosening requirements, it makes it easier for people to "game" the system. Who wouldn't love to include "Dean's List" on their C.V.?

  7. Anonymous10:54 PM

    Hi Terri,

    it is always hard to deal with disappointment. But it does not change things.I made the experience that disappointment makes you stronger and stronger. As I always say: Do your best and be happy!


    1. Dear Annegret,

      Thank you SO MUCH for reading and leaving me a comment. You and I agree on many things in life, and it looks like this is another area where we are in synch.

      I love your positive attitude. We've shared a lot of meaningful conversations on all sorts of topics, including the "millennial geeneration." At a certain point we start to sound like "old fogies" — those who are treated derisively by younger people. I guess we must all live through our lives so we have perspective. Even millennials will find themselves in the same place some day.

      Thank you again, my friend! <3



Post a Comment


i'm a graphic designer who loves words. - terri nakamura