“Develop success from failures. Discouragement and failure are two of the surest stepping stones to success.” — Dale Carnegie

This is the time of year when discouragement usually sets in. Not only is it Winterpocalypse outside—dark, dreary, icy, impossible to drive. It’s also just far enough into the calendar year that most of our resolutions have fallen out of our conscious mind and into that place where dreams go to die.

We’re hitting the snooze button instead of going to the gym.

We’re scheduling happy hour instead of working on that creative project.

We’re watching TV instead of reading those books we swore we’d read.

Let me tell you something that I hope will make you feel a little bit better about this, if it sounds like the place you’re in: this is totally normal. In fact, if you didn’t experience this part of the process toward achieving your goals, you should be asking yourself: when is it coming? It’s really not a matter of if, but when.

Unrealistic Expectations

Part of the problem is we start off with what are probably unrealistic expectations.

This is what happened to me when I first quit my full time job to achieve my lifelong goal of writing a book several years ago. I was keeping a blog and I assumed—if I did my very best writing—somewhere along the way a publisher or an agent would “discover” me and be so impressed with my work, they would practically beg me to sign a book deal.

Because I was wholeheartedly convinced of this, I quit my full-time job, sold pretty much everything I owned, packed what was left into my Subaru Outback and set off on a year-long journey across the country. I figured taking such a huge leap would help me get noticed, it would make publishers or agents take me really seriously.

Of course it was a big sacrifice—but it would be worth it, I told myself as soon as I got that book deal.

That logic fueled me for awhile. It was the motivation I needed to sell the things I really didn’t want to sell, to leave my secure job, etc. The problem came when I came home from my journey without a place to live or any furniture or a job and I still didn’t have a book deal.

Discouragement Sets In

This was when the discouragement set in for me.

Everything I had given up had been worth it if I got a book deal. But was it worth it if I didn’t get a book deal? I wasn’t sure it was—so I found myself in a very dark place after my trip. My expectations for the trip hadn’t been met and I wondered if I had made a huge mistake. There was no going back. What was I supposed to do now?

It wasn’t until I shared my fear with a good friend of mine that she helped me reframe my discouragement in a way that was really helpful.

First of all, she told me it was normal to feel discouraged as we’re fighting our way to the goals that are really important to us. She said it was fine to feel disappointed, that was normal even, and that she understood the discouragement. Let me be the one to say that for you now, if you’re in a place of discouragement.

Discouragement Is Normal

Discouragement is normal. Everyone feels it. There’s nothing wrong with you.

Second, she pointed out that part of why I was feeling discouraged was because of the unrealistic expectation I had of getting a book deal. “So you didn’t get a book deal,” she told me. “But you got a bunch of other stuff—and you’re missing it—all because you’re so focused on what you originally wanted.”

At first I didn’t understand what she was saying, so I asked her to clarify.

“You’re a totally different person than you were when you left,” she said. “You’re less afraid, more willing to take risks. Think of all the people you met and all the things you got to see. Think of the stories you’ll tell to your children or your grandchildren. You can’t put a price tag on any of that.”

“So you didn’t get a book deal,” she said. “You found yourself.”

That was really helpful for me. Because I realized that if I had to choose between getting a book deal or finding myself, finding myself was clearly the more valuable of the two. I didn’t want to miss the truly valuable thing I received simply because I didn’t get what I thought I would get.

The Wisdom Of Open Hands

If you’re fighting your way toward a goal, I want to pass this wisdom on to you.

Not only is discouragement a totally normal part of the process, but one of the ways we can fight against the discouragement is to remind ourselves that what we think we are going to get when we begin a journey isn’t necessarily what we get—and that’s not a bad thing.

When we live our lives with open hands, we will experience loss, but we are also postured for incredible gain.

Additionally, without trying to talk yourself out of the discouragement, remind yourself that where you end up will have a lot to do with how you respond to disappointments and loss. I did eventually get the book deal I had hoped for so desperately. It didn’t come as easily, or as soon, as I hoped it would.

But I never would have gotten it if I had let my discouragement get the best of me. Discouragement will come and go, but if you keep pressing toward your goals, I promise you won’t be disappointed.

[Photo: Jan Tik, Creative Commons]

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