By Steve Holzmeyer, Courier & Press, May 5, 2015 –
At the conclusion of this year’s NCAA championship game, most of the focus was on the winning Duke team and their jubilation, but we also saw the sad faces of the Wisconsin players as they suffered from “the agony of defeat.”
Life is like that. Sometimes we win, sometimes we lose. It is much easier to accept success, but there can also be great opportunity in how we react to the disappointments that we all face from time to time.
Young people are particularly vulnerable to the ups and downs of life. Those of us who are older usually have acquired a greater perspective on things like peer pressure, mistreatment, the loss of a loved one, or the failure to achieve a desired goal. However, for a teenage boy, the loss of a girlfriend can seem like a devastating event from which recovery is uncertain. This is particularly true for those with low self-esteem.
Growing up my feeling of self-worth was very low and was paired with a painfully shy personality. My coping mechanism was to withdraw into a shell with limited personal contact outside of my own family. The failures, disappointments and hurts I encountered led me to isolate myself even further. This was my survival tactic, and it delayed the full development of my personality for many years.
How should I have dealt with this, and how should other young people overcome disappointment?
The first step is to accept that we all fail at times. There will be disappointments. We are going to be treated poorly by others occasionally. There are also going to be tragedies in our lives. This is the reality of life.
But there is much to be learned from failure and loss. Learn to look within yourself and analyze what has happened. What went wrong? What could have been done differently to change or improve the results?
The next step is to create a plan that responds to your difficulty or need in a positive way. Late in my teenage years I developed the habit of getting angry when I failed or felt I had been treated unfairly. However, it was a productive and controlled anger that forced me out of my shell for the purpose of proving people wrong or changing others’ opinions about me. We must sometimes speak up and assert ourselves.
Another way to respond to disappointment is by finding places where you will be accepted and valued. For me, it was becoming involved in the community outreach work of my church. For others it might be volunteering at a nonprofit like Youth First, where you will be welcomed with open arms and lifted up as a valuable part of the mission. Involvement in a meaningful cause will build self-esteem.
Your reaction to failure or hardship is much more important than your reaction to success. You can give up — or you can let disappointment motivate you and spur you on to higher achievement. It was that incredible overcomer Helen Keller who said, “A happy life consists not in the absence, but in the mastery of hardships.” Be an overcomer!
Steve Holzmeyer is controller and office manager for Youth First, Inc., a local nonprofit dedicated to strengthening youth and families. To learn more about Youth First, visit youthfirstinc.org or call 812-421-8336.