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Ok…time for a pop quiz (we told you there would be quizzes, didn’t we?). Take out your pencil and paper.

Question 1) Name one or two major disappointments in your life.

Question 2) List the reason or reasons why these disappointments happened.

Question 3) If you could go back in time, what steps would you take to try to make the event turn out positive?

Question 4) How were you made a better person through the experience?

Question 5) Name one thing you regret not trying in the past?

Question 6) List why you think you didn’t try this.

Question 7) Name one thing that 5 years from now you might look back in regret that you should have tried today?

Recently while driving back from a short vacation, with my wife asleep in the seat next to me, my mind drifted off and I began to think about a major disappointment in my life. No particular reasons…the memory just popped right up as memories often do. I spent a few minutes re-living the situation. A great job opportunity had been right in front of me, a dream situation. I was so excited, so hopeful. And then, at the last moment, unseen forces snatched it away, and what was to be a celebratory occasion left me saying, “What happened? What could I / should I have done differently?  If only I’d…”

As I continued to think about this incident, I realized that in every person’s life there is disappointment. Often, I get disappointment confused with regret. Disappointment means I tried something or hoped for something but it didn’t happen. Regret means I didn’t try and wish I had.

You can easily see the difference, can’t you? Yet too many of us mix up these thoughts. We look at disappointments as failures. And of course, they are not.

As I answered the questions above, 3 or 4 major disappointments quickly came to mind.  Sometimes I made mistakes in the process and other times things outside my influence were the cause of not seeing these dreams or goals realized.

But as I examined each case of disappointment, I realized  I had made tremendous improvement in the process. For example, just getting into position for the job I I wanted took years of networking, extra education and tons of effort. And even though I fell short of the prize, I gained a lot from stretching myself.  And I tried! That is huge!  To not have gone for it would have been much worse.

Regrets? They suck! Not trying something I should have drives me nuts. I recently read a survey of the top 10 things people regret. Many of them have to do when people were in high school, wishing they had tried out for a sports team or asked their lab partner in biology class to homecoming. I think we all wish we could go back, really, we should give ourselves a break. There is a reason they don’t let 16 year olds vote or run for president! We have limited perspective at that age, and the good choices we did make are many times a happy coincidence.

The question I am most excited about is Question 7, dealing with the here and now. What challenge should I be tacking today? Is it a skill I would like to develop?  Reading all the works of Charles Dickens? Travel to the Serengeti to watch the wildebeest migration? Planning a family vacation?

I’ll let you know.

And let me know how your list comes out. In the meantime, remember that disappointments mean you went for it and became better in the process!

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Image courtesy of Wolfgang Staudt

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