Dealing with Disappointment

It feels good to write this today. For once, I’m not dealing with disappointment in my art. My little creative monkey mind and I have been having fun, and while I don’t have much to show for myself in recent days, that’s all right. The scribbles and practice drawings I’m making are showing positive improvement — if not so much in my drawings themselves, at least in my attitude toward art.

Lately I’ve been reading a lot, not only about art and artists but about many different topics, and I’m often struck by how connected things are in our world. As artists, we may indeed have a few unique qualities, but many of our thoughts and feelings are shared by individuals in other walks of life.

And thus it was, when I stumbled across an article on “How to Deal with Difficult Outcomes“, I read it eagerly, even though it was written for ice skaters, not artists. Here are a few thoughts from the article:

How Disappointment is Handled is Important

When someone is unable to achieve the expectations established by others or themselves, the emotional state is described as one of feeling disappointment. Everyone experiences some form of disappointment that can range from minor to major events in their life.

The responses to disappointment can range from being able to deal with the event(s) to being unable to get ones life back on track. Disappointment has as much to do with reality as it has to do with a person’s perception of the events.

Putting a disappointing event in perspective is an important step to use the event as an opportunity to achieve something positive. For example:

  • A student who consistently earns outstanding grades may be very disappointed when another student earns a higher grade. Even if someone else earns a higher grade this does not diminish the accomplishments of another person.
  • An athlete who places last may be very pleased to have qualified to enter the competition, while another who places second experiences extreme disappointment because they were expecting a first place.

Change Expectations to Avoid Disappointment

Some people attempt to change from being optimists to being pessimists just to avoid disappointment. This is not a solution; it is an attempt to escape confronting the underlying causes of the problem.

Dealing successfully with disappointment requires a “Pre-emptive Defense” of learning how to establish a positive way of thinking and being surrounded with a support system which cultivates self-esteem and confidence. Reasonable and measurable goals must be established to avoid experiencing high stress and frustration levels.

– San Diego Figure Skating Communications – 

Reading on, I came to the simple fact that in sports, “Most kids who are average players will often experience as much disappointment as they do athletic success.” You know…that’s also true in competitions of any sort, including art, and in any sort of competition there will always be more losers than winners.

Does this make me sound pessimistic? Maybe so, but I see it more as being realistic, and that’s an important step in preparing for competition, isn’t it? As the article points out, we do need “a positive way of thinking” and we need a strong support system that helps us build self-esteem and confidence, but above all, we must change expectations to avoid disappointment.

And as artists, truthfully, we should expect disappointing outcomes. Disappointment, I’ve discovered, is a large part of what being an artist is all about. When my cheeky little “monkey mind” and I decided to browse a bit and research the topic, I was stunned by how many articles came up.

Here’s a smattering of what “Cheeky” and I found:

How to Overcome Disappointment – Empty Easel

When the Art We Create Disappoints Us

Why Am I So Disappointed In My Art?

How to Deal with Creative Disappointment

Turning Disappointment into Creative Fuel

I’m delighted to share these sites and to write about the topic of disappointment today because I’m not going through all these negative thoughts and feelings at the moment. What that means is that I can read these articles and understand all that these other artists are telling me. I can appreciate what they’re saying.

One of the worst things about creative disappointment I’ve found is that once we get into it, it’s hard to get out. Good advice is meaningless then. We’re too far down in the hole to accept encouragement or do any “positive thinking” on the matter.

This is what the ice-skating communication means about creating a “pre-emptive defense”. When we’re not disappointed is the best time to learn ways to deal with it. Make no mistake about it, disappointment will come, no matter who we are or how long we’ve been making art. If we know ahead of time how to deal with it in a rational manner, it really will help us pull through.

The links I’ve provided are only starting points. Much has been written about disappointment simply because it is such a prevalent experience in life. Whether we are athletes, artists, writers, business people, scientists, film-makers, teachers, doctors or lawyers, whether we are old or young, whether we are just starting out or have been practicing our art, our craft, or our profession for eons, we’re all going to encounter disappointment from time to time. It’s helpful to be prepared. It’s good to know how to face it.


  1. I’ve always been my worst critic. I’m finding out by drawing realaxed on my couch I can come up with all kinds of ideas but once I get at my drawing table I go blank. Then everything seems like a chore.

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