We’ve all been there …
You’ve planned an event and only half the students show up.
A parent pulls you aside and shares concerns over a certain action you’ve recently taken.
After months of investment, your group still doesn’t seem to be taking their commitment to Christ very serious.
You pitch your idea to your senior pastor only to have him decide to go in a different direction.
Very few of us are immune to disappointment. It’s a pretty core aspect of doing youth ministry, in part because it’s so people focused. There’s nothing like the letdown when something doesn’t work or something goes wrong.
But here’s the truth: There are a few actions we can take that will help us learn from disappointment. And when we learn from disappointment, we take its sting away. It can actually become a way for us to build proficiency.
Here are a few thoughts on how we can learn from disappointment.
Examine Your Expectations
Sometimes in our desire to work our hardest and be most effective in what God has called us to do we can inadvertently set our expectations too high. I have been guilty of this in the past. Maybe that event you put on that only had 12 kids was only ever going to have 12. Maybe 12 is success after all. Maybe your expectation that you would have 40 was unrealistic. Maybe that 10-minute spiritual discussion you had with your 6th grade girls small group is the best you’re going to get out of this group in this context. Maybe thinking you could teach a 30-minute lesson was unrealistic.
I’m not advocating we set the bar low. But I know in my experience, there have been times I have been disappointed because I had an inflated and unrealistic definition of success. Making sure your expectations were right to begin with is a big part of learning from our disappointment.
Define the Variables That Lead to the Disappointment
Sometimes our “woe is me” attitude can get in the way of the most valuable aspect of dealing with disappointment: critical analysis. Instead of moping about the failure, really make a concerted effort to identify WHY you failed.
• Were there variables outside of your control? Did something happen to impact your event that could not be foreseen? If so, chalk it up to bad luck. Keep plugging away and a win will surely come.
• Did you rely on someone who may very well prove to be unreliable? It happens. People make mistakes. And if it’s a one-time thing you can call it an accident and move forward. But if it’s a pattern, you might need to rethink how you delegate.
• Were there logistical issues? Do you have a process problem? Did you communicate effectively? Did you prepare well?
• What role did you play? Did you drop the ball somewhere along the way? This is the hardest question to ask, and we’re not always reliable in how we self-critique. If you have a trusted friend or spouse, maybe he or she could help you with this process.
Feel it for a while, but move on.
Disappointment is a natural emotion. It’s healthy to feel this way. It’s not fair to think that we wouldn’t feel disappointment when the situation warrants it. But STAYING disappointed is unhealthy. Wallowing in our disappointment is not only harmful to your attitude and your relationship with others, it can rob you of ministry opportunities you may miss because you’re not in the frame of mind to see them for what they are.
Disappointment is no fun. But if we learn from it, we can go a long way toward preventing future disappointment.