The Three Essential Life Skills Your Parents Never Taught You

Barry Davret

Image licensed from Roman Samborskyi

When I ran my first marathon in 1998, I set a goal of finishing in under four hours. I trained for nine months, ate right, and slept well, but fell short of my target by a mere 55 seconds.

The marathon was a bucket list item. I had planned to run it once and then never do it again.

But that 55 seconds ate through my gut like an ulcer — pure, unbridled disappointment.

In one sense, I succeeded just by finishing that race. But to come so close to hitting my stretch-goal. Man, that hurt. It would have been less painful had I missed it by twenty minutes. Or, never set the stretch goal at all.

Up to that point in my life, I dealt with feelings of disappointment by burying them deep inside or blaming someone or something else. This time, the desire to break 4 hours forced me to deal with it in a way that propelled me forward.

A few days after the race, I decided to make another go of it. In the following year, I crushed my goal and did so again several times over the next decade.

Handling disappointment in a constructive manner is a life skill, and it’s not something they teach you in school. Your parents may have tried to explain it to you, but we often model our parents. And unfortunately, many adults never master it. It’s one of the three life skills you must learn on your own.

How to handle disappointment

When you work hard towards accomplishing a goal, it hurts when you fall short. But disappointments happen every day from small to large. And if you can’t deal with them, you’ll miss opportunities and waste your days wallowing in self-pity.

Behind every setback hides an opportunity. To uncover it, follow these steps.

The “do nothing” stage

A mentor once told me to never make any critical decision within 24–72 hours of a life setback. The length of time will depend on how deep your wound. Avoid making significant life decisions when you’re emotionally riled unless it’s unavoidable.

It’s weird. When you resolve to postpone decisions while you mourn defeat, it somehow speeds your recovery.


Once the emotional pain has fizzled, reassess your missed objective. Ask yourself if you still desire it. If so, are you willing to work towards achieving it? Is there another path open to you?

When I missed my marathon target, I decided I needed the support of a group to help me train harder and hold me accountable. It turned out, that path led me to achieve my goal.

When you evaluate the root cause behind your disappointment, you often find that you took the wrong path to get there.

And if you decide it’s not worth it? There’s nothing wrong with quitting an endeavor that doesn’t serve your needs or desires. These misfortunes also offer you an opportunity to reassess what you want out of life.

Take action

Once you choose a course of action, take one small step. The fastest way to put the past behind you is to set new objectives and act on them.

How to combat overwhelm

One of the most frequent comments I hear people say is, “I feel overwhelmed.” Everyone experiences it. There’s too much to do, and you lack the time, resources, and ability to meet all your obligations.

The ability to overcome overwhelm is directly proportional to your willingness to say, I don’t give a shit to things that don’t matter.

Incorporate these two techniques into your daily routine, and you’ll quickly quell the haunting feeling that the world demands too much of you.

The pause

Take a deep breath. Get a pen and paper. Write out all of your obligations — both to yourself and others. For each one, ask yourself, “If I don’t do this, what’s the worst-case scenario?

Then label each item as either:

  1. Must do
  2. Delegate
  3. Ignore

In a matter of minutes, you will have separated your perceived obligations from your real ones.

Most obligations fall under the category of nice to have. Sure, it would be great if you could get to them, but the earth will keep spinning if you decide not to rearrange your closet today.

Sacred time

Several years ago, I embraced the concept of sacred time. It has done wonders for my mental health. Anyone can do it anywhere. Spend 30 minutes a day in solitude, disconnected from the world, and engaged in light exercise (such as walking).

It sounds ridiculously simple, I know. But scheduling sacred time as a daily ritual rejuvenates your soul. Even if you fail to pare down your list of obligations to a manageable number, granting yourself 30 minutes of disconnected bliss dilutes the stress of overwhelm.

How to bounce back from rejection

Many of life’s failures stem from the fear of rejection. We fear it so much that we shy away from situations that make us feel uneasy. That means we miss out on countless opportunities because we’re too afraid the other person might reject our overtures.

At my first sales job, I crashed after three months because I couldn’t bear to hear someone turn me down. Each morning, I glared at the telephone, equating it with a wild animal in slumber. If I touched the phone, it might awake and attack.

Most of us know that fear. It creeps in whenever we need to reach out to someone, ask someone out, or ship our work for feedback. It paralyzes us, and we cook up familiar excuses like these:

It’s not ready yet.
I need more time.
I’ll get to it later.

This fear never goes away. But you can learn to subdue it. Here’s a quick technique to suppress the angst long enough for you to take action.

  1. Identify the worst-case scenario. Most of the time, it will be something like this: It will hurt my feelings. It will embarrass me.
  2. Pretend it’s twenty years from now. Looking back from your future self, how much will that rejection hurt (twenty years later)? Most likely, you will have forgotten about it by then.
  3. What positive result might happen if you do take action?
  4. Act quickly. You can’t suppress the fear forever.

Disappointment. Overwhelm. Rejection. If you can handle those three hurdles, you can deal with anything life throws your way.

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Experimenter in life, productivity, and creativity. My work can be found in publications across the internet

Summit, NJ

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