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Dealing with Disappointment in College Life

The grade came back far lower than you expected. The relationship didn’t work out. The letter was a rejection instead of an acceptance. Someone you trusted didn’t follow through on a promise. Sometimes disappointment can be as simple as a bad date or grade while other times it can feel like the world has crushed you.

Disappointment is part of life. When Sue and I moved back to Texas after I got my doctorate in theology from Basel University, I was sure my degree from a great Swiss university would enable me to get a teaching job quickly. I was wrong. I wrote to every Baptist college in Texas and received a polite “thank you, but no” from each one. That disappointment turned out, in retrospect, to be one of life’s smallest.

We all experience disappointment, and it’s important that we learn how best to deal with it as early as possible. I am inspired by the comments of our great faculty and staff regarding disappointment. I hope their practical, encouraging answers help you in current and future challenges.

Dr. Lesli Fridge in the College of Education and Behavioral Sciences summed up all of her colleagues’ advice succinctly:

Unfortunately, disappointment is a fact in life. Pray about it. Reflect on why you were disappointed. Determine if there was something you could have done differently. Don’t dwell on it and beat yourself up over it. Move on to something bigger and better.

Know that everyone deals with disappointment.

Disappointment is not an “if,” but a “when.” The world is broken and we have to find ways to live in it…(continued below) – Dr. Brenda Whaley, College of Science and Mathematics

Pray about what happened.

If you are a person of faith, rely on that faith. Pray for wisdom to know that even though the disappointment may feel huge in the moment, it is only a stepping stone to God’s plan for your life. – Dr. Lisa Ellis, College of Science and Mathematics

Prayer always is an answer. – Dr. Matt Boyleston, School of Fine Arts

Trust that God is working.

One of my favorite songs says,

“When God says ‘no,’ He’s always saying yes – yes I will protect you, yes my child, I know what’s best – yes to better dreams you have yet to know. There is hidden affirmation when God says ‘no.'” (“When God Says No” by Bonnie Keen, co-written with Suzanne Gaither Jennings). 

I think it’s important for students at the undergraduate and graduate levels to know that disappointment doesn’t have to be the end of something. You can make it the beginning of something better if you seek the Lord’s plan. This is how I try to encourage our graduate students who come into the office. – Allyson Cates, director of Graduate Admissions

Disappointment is an opportunity to become more resilient. When disappointment comes, focus on two things: God and yourself. Ask God for wisdom. If you love God, He has allowed this disappointment into your life to change you for the good. Search for the purpose in the situation and see what good thing God is offering you. – Dr. Brenda Whaley

Learn from your mistakes and failures.

As author John Maxwell recommends in his book Failing Forward, “Fail early, fail often, but always fail forward.” View mistakes and disappointments as opportunities to learn and grow. Failure is inevitable in life, but it’s the way we learn from it, grow as a result, and move forward that makes all the difference. – Dr. Katie Alaniz, College of Education and Behavioral Sciences

We learn so much more from our failures than our successes. If everything went perfect, we’d never strive to improve. Disappointment is a time for self-reflection. What are your goals? Are you doing all that you can to achieve them? Who can help you? What can you learn from the failure? – Dr. Lisa Ellis

Reflect on how you contributed to the disappointment.

Disappointment is a real emotion and students should not be upset that they feel disappointment. Many of the classical authors we read have good advice about dealing with disappointment and the relationship between one’s expectations and the realities of one’s situation. Controlling your expectations is key to overcoming disappointment. – Dr. Matt Boyleston

You are the only thing that you can control. Did your attitudes or behaviors contribute to the disappointing situation? Think about ways that you could change to avoid the same disappointing outcomes in the future. Also, do not focus on things that you cannot change. Don’t dwell on blaming others as this is unproductive and can distract you from prayer and self-examination. These two things are what lead to productive changes. – Dr. Brenda Whaley

Take a step back and a deep breath. You’re in college.

Cultivating an attitude of grit and hopeful determination helps. It also helps to realize that although most of what happens in college is important, it is rarely critical to one’s life. College is a place where students can make mistakes and recover. – Dr. Matt Boyleston

Focus on the future, not the past.

Think about the size of the rearview mirror as compared with the windshield of your car. There’s a reason for that size difference! The rearview mirror can give us useful information, but it should not be our focus. If the rearview mirror is our focus, we will crash! – Dr. Karen Frederick, College of Education and Behavioral Sciences

How you respond to less-than-ideal situations in your college years will set a pattern for your future. Beyond job applications rejected or failures experienced, I can admit – and this is hard to say – to being disappointed in what I took to be the Lord’s answers (or silence) in response to my prayers.

But I invariably learn to step back, get my perspective in order, and remember that God’s love, revealed in the death and resurrection of Christ, means He can and should be trusted, and that He is at work for good for me. He’s not against me. And my life’s purpose is to work for Him. The same is true for you.

Thank you to the Houston Baptist University faculty and staff members who contributed to this blog.


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Blog edited by Joannah Buffington

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