A long-time friend of mine recently lost an incredibly tight race for an elected position she had held for a long time. Knowing her tenacity and intelligence, as well as her dedication and commitment to completing some long-term and somewhat controversial projects, I could only imagine her disappointment as the results came in.
And so I sent her a gently-worded message saying something to the effect of, “I’d like to share what I have learned. Things that no longer serve us clear out so new opportunities can drop in. Keep space open for these new opportunities. You may just have outgrown your current environment, and that can be so uncomfortable. Congratulations on your loss. Something new is coming.”
I read the message several times before hitting send because I didn’t want to cause her more pain or appear callous and uncaring. But in my own experience with disappointing loss, I found I can unknowingly acquire a tolerance for things that don’t serve me. This learning was so refreshing and freeing that I felt compelled to give my friend a hint of what may be possible.
How we manage great disappointment can shape the trajectory of our lives. But my experience tells me (and maybe yours doesn’t tell you this, and that’s okay) that if I can move through the stages of grief – shock, denial and isolation, anger, acknowledgment of loss, acceptance, commitment and adaptation – with an awareness that the space taken up by all those emotions will soon be filled with exciting potential, I will arrive at the final stage of creativity and risk-taking with joy and excitement.
I’ve learned not to move through those stages with my awareness on regret, blame, helplessness or victimhood. Instead, I keep my attention on what about this situation no longer served me. I ask myself: What have I outgrown, or am ready to let go of, that I am shedding in this loss?
In the midst of the stages of one particular loss, I woke up one morning realizing, Oh my gosh. I can live wherever I want in the entire world. I no longer have an anchor to this one space. I didn’t know if I wanted to move, and I certainly wasn’t equipped in that moment to make any kind of decision, but just the knowledge of what had become possible brought me a release and positive energy.
My friend responded, saying that my “congrats” meant a lot to her. She realized she isn’t exactly certain how she feels about the loss. She was eager and excited to continue working hard but also realized she has a stack of books she’s been wanting to read and now she could also consider some trips. In the thick of it all, those thoughts of what is now possible are exciting.
It is important to fully grieve the loss of what we thought was our future. Allowing space to feel whatever it is we are feeling is the only way out.
But avoid the temptation to settle into victimhood or anger for too long. The grace of that allowed space is in shedding what no longer serves you, and sometimes looking up to the sparkles and twinkles of new opportunities while knowing you don’t have to take any action on anything – just relish the feeling of possibility.
With love to all who are negotiating loss and disappointment on this day!
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