Barbara Fish Counselling Services ... helping your life work

Dealing with Disappointment

Helping Your Life Work

Volume 8, Issue 8

August, 2012

To say that the recent Olympic games were filled with highs and lows would be an understatement. There were moments of pure ecstasy as we watched these perfect specimens of power and strength challenge themselves and the laws of nature to defeat all expectations of what a human should be able to achieve. The single-minded purpose, focus and superhuman strength of the Olympian left us amazed and in awe.

But there were moments of defeat that somehow felt (at least, to me) even more dramatic. For those Olympians who had devoted years and sometimes lifetimes to a grueling ritual of waking at the crack of dawn, training for hours every day, every week, every year, and preparing themselves both physically as well as psychologically, it was sad and painful to watch as their dreams were dashed and their hopes crushed.

What really captured my attention was how the athletes dealt with their disappointments. There were those for whom coming home with anything less than a gold medal was not an option and the shame and regret that they expressed in their faces at coming in second, was disheartening. There were others who blamed officials for robbing them of what they felt was rightfully theirs and showed their anger and rage at the injustice. And then there were those whose dignity and poise in the face of defeat was quite admirable to watch. 

When triathlete Simon Whitfield’s bicycle hit a speed bump and he and another cyclist collided and skidded on the pavement into a guardrail, Mr. Whitfield’s response was nothing short of stoic. Despite this being his last Olympics, getting off to a great start with his swim, breaking his collarbone and requiring stitches on his foot, he simply acknowledged that falls were part of the sport. Now considering that this was his fourth Olympics and he had already won one gold and silver in the past, his hunger for a medal may not have been the same as some of the younger and newer Olympians, nonetheless, it was notably dignified.

When the men’s 4 x 100 relay team lost their Bronze metal after it was determined that one of the runners, Jared Connaughton, had inadvertently stepped over his lane, he accepted full responsibility for his error and apologized to his team and to Canada. As sad and disappointed as he may have felt at the time, he felt obliged to own his mistake and learn from it.

Then there was heptathlete Jessica Zelinka, whose performance in the high jump was obviously disappointing to the young mother. But when asked how she felt about it, she said that she was already focused on the next day’s competition. I envied that ability to leave regrets and disappointment behind and have the presence of mind to accept what was and plan for what was to come.

After catching his foot on the trampoline, Jason Burnett’s hopes for a medal were lost. He rationalized, “Crashes happen all the time, and you do what you can to deal with them.” He also said that he would be going over the tapes to watch and learn how he could do things differently the next.

While the circumstances may have been somewhat different, all four athletes gracefully accepted their circumstance.  Instead of berating themselves and being full of shame and regret, they were able to take responsibility and learn from their experiences. Perhaps we can learn from them.

Barbara Fish, M.Ed.
Personal and Career Counsellor
“Helping Your Life Work”

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