Dealing with Personal Disappointment and Tragedy

Over the last few days, I’ve been dealing with a deep personal disappointment, one that I’d rather not discuss in public (don’t worry, it’s not relevant to The Simple Dollar – it’s wholly personal). It’s left me feeling empty and rather sad and – frankly – not very motivated to write at all. I’ll sit down, intending to write or get other tasks done, and find myself staring out the window, thinking about other things and usually feeling miserable.

This is something that a lot of people go through. A sudden death. A major fight or the end of a relationship. A long-hoped-for event falling through. They can hit you in the chest and make it feel as though the winds have completely fallen out of your sails, no matter how well other aspects of your life are going.

afterA few months ago, I reviewed the excellent book After the Darkest Hour, which dealt with this very problem: how do you get your professional and other personal aspects of your life back on track after a disappointment? I turned to this book over the last few days, and here are the pieces of advice it provided that really clicked for me and helped me to find the strength to write this post and others.

Advice on Dealing with Personal Tragedy

Focus on helping others

Part of the impetus of this post was the realization that part of my “job” when it comes to The Simple Dollar is to help people. I’m dealing with something painful, but dealing with such things is a key part of the human experience, something we all deal with.

So I turn the question around. What can I do right now to help someone else through a problem? It leads me back to my real purpose for The Simple Dollar, gets me to the keyboard, and gets me writing.

For you, the solution might be simply helping out a friend or a relative with a task that they have, or putting in some extra time with a volunteer project you’re involved with. It’ll make you feel better, just as actually sitting down and writing this is making me feel better.

Allow yourself to go ahead and grieve

Instead of lightly dwelling on the item at hand and continually pushing it off into the future, allow yourself to grieve. If you need to cry, just let the tears come now rather than later.

Pushing off the grieving process does nothing more than extend the problem. Sitting here, staring out the window, and dwelling lightly on the issue while also feeling guilty about the work I’m not doing isn’t really helping at all. I’d be far better off just taking a walk or going someplace by myself and just letting it all come out at once. Then, I can get back to the tasks I need to do with my full concentration sooner rather than later.


No matter what I’m going through or how I feel, meditation improves my mood and my calmness. Just go into a quiet place for twenty minutes or so and simply relax and empty your mind.

Don’t know how? Here’s a suggestion. Sit back, close your eyes, and try to clear your mind of every thought – make it as empty as possible. Then slowly imagine each part of your body going to sleep – I like to imagine it slipping into a warm pool of water. Start with your feet, then your calves, then your knees, and so on. Nice and slow. Once you’re up to your neck, then slowly do it in reverse, all the way back down. It really does work, and it makes you feel refreshed no matter what you’re going through.

Talk to others about what you’re feeling

If you’re facing a difficult personal situation, don’t just let it build up inside of yourself. Share it with others.

My wife and I have had several long conversations recently, mostly taking place as we sat on our bed together. I’ve talked to a few additional family members and friends as well. Each time, I felt better about things and was more able to concentrate on tasks at hand.

Look for role models

Do you know anyone who rolled through a similar experience and got themselves right back on track? They’re likely a great source for advice and thoughts – and also a great source of inspiration from afar.

I have a friend who went through a nearly-identical experience about fifteen years ago. Today, I’ve been using her as inspiration – and it’s helped quite a bit. If she can do it, I can do it.

Watch a funny movie – or do something else that’ll make you laugh

Humor is a natural and healthy mood-lightener and it works impressively well.

What I often do is turn to and watch the previous episode of The Daily Show or The Colbert Report. I usually get a few laughs and, at the end, I feel quite a bit better. In fact, as I’m writing this, an episode of The Colbert Report was playing in the background … and it does work. I do feel better.

Spend time with someone who naturally makes you happier

For me, that’s easy. Few things make me feel better than spending time with my kids and my wife. Their mere presence – their ordinary behavior – tends to lift my mood quite a bit, making painful things much easier to get through.

And with that thought, I’m walking away from the keyboard early today. I’m going to go take my kids to story time at the library and then go to the park, as this is likely one of the last nice days before winter begins to set in. I can’t think of anything better than waving at my son as he stands at the top of the tall slide and helping my one year old daughter slide down the small slide.

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