This is the last part of my 4-part series on how to deal with disappointment. If you are new to this series, read part 1 first.
Whenever I write my articles, I draw inspiration from the events that are unfolding in my life. This one is no different. Here, I will be sharing a past experience with disappointment which led to my lessons in this disappointment series. My purpose of sharing this is for you to benefit from my experience. As you read, see if you can draw any parallels between what I went through and what you are going through now.
(This post was written in January 2009, one month after I started Personal Excellence.)
Beginning of a Journey: Hopes and Expectations
Before I quit, I had a clear vision of my end goal. I decided that I wanted to start a personal development business, and this would involve using different mediums to reach out to others, such as being a coach, blogger, and speaker. This site would be the first step in my plans.
I gave myself a 6-month period to focus on pursuing my purpose (where I would live off my savings), and see where it would take me. Depending on how things go at the end of the 6 months, I would either continue to pursue it full time, or return to corporate (for a few more years) and pursue my purpose at the side.
In my mind though, I was secretly hoping that everything would work out and I could do this full time.
A State of Happiness and Fulfillment
Life pursuing my purpose was phenomenal. For the first time, I could dedicate my full attention to my goals and dreams without conflicting demands from my day job.
Just imagine waking up every morning and doing anything you like. I’ve always been enthusiastic about life, but after leaving my day job to start my business, I was literally bouncing around every day in exuberance. :D My friends can attest to this! In my purpose series, I repeatedly mention how passionate I am about my purpose and how much it drives me. The feeling is incredible, unlike anything I have felt before.
Conflicting Demands of Reality
However, after a few weeks of working on my goal, I realized that 6 months was not going to be enough for things to take off. For starters, I would need to establish a high level of awareness for my business. I would also need to build credibility and expertise for my skills as a coach and trainer.
By simply being 24 years old, people would naturally cast doubt on my ability, even though I have the skills to give value to others. Awareness, credibility, and expertise take time to build, and 6 months is not a reasonable time frame. In fact, 2 months had passed while I was working on my plans, before launching my business in Dec 2008. Studies have shown that it takes at least 18 months before a blog fully takes off. This lead time doesn’t factor in the ability to make a living from your blog.
In the meantime, I had other issues to deal with. For example, financial limitation. While I could live each day frugally, I was limited in many decisions and they were all tied to money.
- When my friends suggested taking a holiday trip, I opted out due to the cost.
- Whenever I went out, I would be conscious of how I spent my money.
- I started reducing / cutting out all expenses where possible, such as on clothes, more costly dining choices, transportation (I started religiously taking the public transport vs. cab), entertainment (movies, social activities that cost money), etc. I also noticed that I would unconsciously flinch whenever money was involved.
This was a stark contrast from my usual self when working in corporate. I was by no means a spendthrift, but I never allowed myself to be held back by money. That’s because I always feel that money should be a means, not an end, and I don’t like money to hinder me in my decision making, especially with regards to protecting my needs and well-being.
There is also my family. I need to support my family. Here in Singapore, it is common to give a monthly allowance to your parents after you start working. After leaving my job, I stopped giving them money — this was meant to be temporary until I started earning money. By the way, I come from a low-income family — my pay in my previous job was more than double the combined pay of my parents. Quitting my job meant cutting off a key income source in the household. While my parents were supportive of my decision to quit, it was always in my plans to reinstate some level of my income within 6 months of quitting, one way or another.
The money issues did not end there. As part of my plans to be a coach, I researched taking a formal coaching course to solidify my coaching skills. After checking the courses available, they cost at least four grand and above. Considering I’m not earning anything, this is a sizable sum of money. I wasn’t sure about investing so much in a course I didn’t know much about, and whether it would have any effect on my new career.
All in all, my key issues seemed to revolve around money.
Contemplation, and Decision
In November 2008, I laid out all my options and narrowed them to two:
- Return to corporate at the end of the 6 months and run my personal development business at the side, until it is established enough to be run full time.
- Focus fully on running my personal development business, with the faith that I would start earning sufficient money within two years (I would be out of savings by then).
I assessed the two options.
Option 1 seemed more realistic and logical. With this, I would no longer be bound by monetary constraints. But if I return to the workforce, I would not have as much time for my blog and coaching. The nature of my corporate work is highly demanding and time consuming; in the past I was constantly traveling and spending late nights, sometimes weekends, working. I would likely be miserable if I return to corporate.
Option 2, on the other hand, is emotionally rewarding since I would continue to pursue my purpose full time. However, it would be financially risky. Not only would I still be facing the same financial limitations, but I would be banking my life on the success of my business within a certain time frame. What if I can’t earn money after a year? What if it takes longer than a year for things to fully take off? I would be scrambling to secure my basic needs then.
When I looked within for answers, the idealist in me screamed to go for Option 2. Just throw everything you got and everything will turn out fine! This is what you truly want and it’s what makes you the happiest!
My logical side advised me that Option 1 was the better choice. If you want to help people grow, you need to secure your needs first. How can you be of service otherwise?
It tore me apart, to have the decision essentially boil down to between these two things: purpose or money.
For money to be the single pressing concern as I pursued my purpose — it was a bitter irony. Instead of focusing on living my purpose and letting the money flow in in its own time and space, I felt pressurized to identify ways to earn money through it. By tying a monetary value to my purpose, I felt like I was making a travesty out of it. I hated being caught in a situation where I had to keep thinking about money, when I was pursuing something much higher in value than that. I felt really frustrated.
Eventually, I asked myself the deal-breaker question: “Which option would ensure the long-term success of my pursuit? Which option would guarantee that I would successfully pursue my purpose in the long run?” When I thought about it in this manner, it is clear that Option 1 is the winner.
A State of Deep Disappointment
When I came to the realization, a feeling of emptiness overcame me. When I quit my job, I was sincerely hoping to run ahead with my purpose forever. Instead, now I would have to return to a corporate career I’m no longer passionate about. I felt like I had dropped all the way down to deep, dark pit, and I was alone inside.
While I had no doubt that I would eventually reach my end goal given time and effort, I just felt so… tired all of a sudden. I felt tired thinking that I was already at my goal, then seeing it being suddenly pulled far, far away into an ambiguous future. I felt tired realizing that there were so many things standing between me and my goal. I felt tired having to figure out ways to secure a living, when I’m trying to pursue a higher purpose. I felt tired with the thought of returning to a job I don’t love, after quitting it to pursue my life passion.
Suddenly, everything I had been doing and fighting for felt meaningless.
Dealing with My Disappointment
For the first few days, I wasn’t in the mood to think, feel, or do anything. While I was functioning on the outside, I felt dead on the inside. I would live my day on auto-pilot, not caring or feeling much. When I was doing other things or out with friends, it would partly take my mind off the topic. But when I was by myself, I would feel a deep void. It was a very empty feeling. It wasn’t even about feeling bad or negative. It was just a feeling of emptiness; like a state of apathy.
After a few days of living in a void though, I decided it was enough. I am usually a vibrant, upbeat person and it was sick feeling so empty. I started to pick myself up and think about how I could improve my emotional state.
I did a lot of introspection regarding my situation. I shared my thoughts with several good friends and talked through the issue with them. It was interesting, getting different perspectives. One thing I love most about talking to others is the diversity of thoughts you get. Their responses reflect a certain aspect about themselves.
After deep thought, I received these key insights.
My Revelations About My Situation
I realized the reason I was so disappointed was because I had become overly attached to my end goal. I had narrowly defined ‘living my purpose’ to only happen when I’m running my personal development business full time.
But this should not be the case at all. If I had to go back to corporate given my circumstance, it would not mean that I wasn’t living my purpose. If anything, going back to work allows me to live my purpose, since it gives me financially security in the meantime. It is the best course of action to live true to my purpose within my circumstance.
I was getting too caught up in the belief that ‘living my purpose’ would only happen when I have my business up and running. That’s defining it too simplistically. Living my purpose is a way of being; it’s something that translates into many actions, from my day-to-day decisions, to my interactions with people, to my thoughts and feelings, and so on. As long as I ensure everything I do each day is in alignment with that, nothing else really matters.
When I came to this realization, my end goal suddenly lost its significance. I mean it’s nice and all when everything takes off, but it doesn’t matter much since I’m already living my purpose right now.
Additionally, while I initially saw returning to work as a setback in terms of my goal to pursue my passion, I realized that it really isn’t. Being aware of these barriers is a progress in itself. Instead of carrying my original belief that everything can be up and running in 6 months, I can now better act toward my goals with what I have learned. This experience gave me new knowledge, new insights, and a new perspective. As I incorporate these lessons into my plan, I am in fact progressing toward my goals, and not moving away from it as I had initially thought.
The epiphanies shook me out of my void. I found out that my feeling of disappointment was totally redundant and misplaced. Suddenly, I began to regain my passion for life. If anything, I’m now more optimistic about life. :)
Life after the Experience
In the past few weeks since shaking myself out of my disappointment, it feels like I’m operating at a higher consciousness level. I feel an increased sense of awareness and clarity about myself and everything around me.
This experience has made me realize many lessons and blind spots that I was previously not privy to. This has helped me grow as a person. It is a very empowering feeling, like nothing can ever get me down anymore. This feeling is extremely, extremely liberating. If you have overcome a stage of deep disappointment before, you will know what I mean. It’s like what Henry Ward Beecher meant with, “One’s best success comes after their greatest disappointments,” and what Friedrich Nietzsche meant with “What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger.”
If you are wondering about the future of this blog after I return to work, don’t worry – I will continue to write and work on my personal development business in full force, whether I return to corporate or not. This is my purpose, this is my life. In a matter of time, the foundations of this business will strengthen to the point where I can do this full time, as my career. :)
Update #1 (Mar 2009): A month after I wrote this post, I decided to work on my personal development business full time and not return to a corporate day job. :) For more details, read the post Embracing My Passion.
Update #2 (Dec 2017): Since writing this post, I’ve built PE into my full-fledged career. I share the steps of my journey in my passion series.
This is the last part of my 4-part series on how to deal with disappointment.