Skip to content

Dealing with Disappointment

Even though disappointment is an unavoidable part of life, it never ceases to stop hurting. Especially when you work really hard for something and want it so badly. You get your hopes up and imagine what could be. You start planning and dreaming and then suddenly your hopes are dashed and you have to deal with the realization that what you wanted and worked so hard for isn’t going to happen.

Grad school seems to come with more than its fair share of disappointment, since there are more candidates than there are grants and jobs. Last month I was over the moon when I received a phone call letting me know that I was a finalist for the Rome Prize. The Rome Prize is a prestigious and highly-coveted grant awarded by the American Academy in Rome. Scholars receive a year of funding and get to live at the Academy in Rome while they research and write. It is basically a dream, and I applied thinking I would never stand a chance.

But then I got that phone call and I started to dream about what might be. They flew me to New York last weekend for my interview. I was so nervous and excited. I had spent all week prepping and preparing. Halfway through the interview, however, my stomach began to twist. I could tell by their questions that they wanted me to be in a place that I wasn’t. It felt like they were looking for someone who was well into the dissertation writing process, and I had only just begun. Despite this, I maintained my cool and the interview went well. I left still holding on to a bit of hope.

Unfortunately, the following Tuesday that hope was replaced by disappointment when I received the phone call telling me that I had not been selected for the grant, but that I was the alternate. My heart sank. I had convinced myself that this grant was going to be my big break and one of the defining moments of my career. I wanted it so badly, but I wasn’t going to get it. Disappointment flooded over me and I allowed myself a 24-hour pity party, complete with prosecco and Nutella.

But here is the thing. I believe everything happens for a reason… or at least I need to believe that. So after my 24-hour pity party, I wiped the dried Nutella from my face and re-grouped. I reminded myself that this wasn’t my only opportunity. I needed to reflect on what I could learn from the experience and move forward with that in mind.

What seems like a devastating disappointment today will only be a bump in the road tomorrow. Case in point, when I was an undergraduate I was convinced that I wanted to go straight to grad school for my Masters and Ph.D. in Art History. I had applied to several schools and even landed an on-site interview and visit at a pretty prestigious school in New York. I went to visit, met with the professor I wanted to work with, and even sat in on one of her graduate classes. At the end of the visit, however, she sat me down and flat out said that she didn’t think I was ready for grad school. To say I was disappointed would be an understatement. I was devastated.

At the time her worlds felt like the end of all of my hopes and dreams, but looking back it was the best thing that ever happened to me. Because I didn’t go to grad school right away, I worked abroad that summer in Italy. Working abroad led to travel opportunities, new interests, even new careers. And I wouldn’t be where I am today without those experiences.

So while I am sad and disappointed I won’t be going to Rome next year. I know it isn’t the end of the world and there will be other opportunities. In fact, I plan on reapplying next year.

Have you ever had a disappointment turn into an advantage?