Nalini Joseph: Disappointment on your child’s path to greatness

Published 12:00 am Sunday, January 17, 2021

By Nalini Joseph

Start talking to your child now about some of the negative emotions he will experience as he climbs the ladder of success. 

Besides the physical and emotional hardship that your child must face if he is going to be a great person, he will have to learn how to deal with many disappointments. Those peers he considered “friends” are not necessarily congratulatory as he begins to outshine them. They have no interest in knowing how he progressed or how much hard work it took for him to be on the top rung. In fact, they would rather that he remain in the glib bubble that they themselves are living in: the bubble that is filled with sports, entertainment and discussions about the newest video games and Netflix shows. Your child will be disappointed that his friends will eventually leave him out of lunchroom chatter and jokes, that they will smirk when he fails and will treat him like an idiot when he tries again. He may be disappointed that siblings are jealous and make fun of his attempts to overcome barriers.

This may sound a little dramatic, but many of the greats of the last 50 years have expressed these exact feelings — in books or in documentaries and televised interviews. The one takeaway that I have from reading about these greats of our contemporary world is that, once they acknowledged these feelings, they moved into a place of action. 

We humans sometimes wallow in our disappointments. It feels good to whine, complain and throw our hands up saying, “I’m done.” The trick is to get out of our hurt and focus our energies on our goals and often, focus on those who are leading the way. There is always someone who is smarter, more talented or more prolific in some way. And here’s the really great thing: these leaders are usually eager to help, mentor and spend time with a younger person who wants to learn and succeed. In the last year, my son and I have had the privilege of meeting local and state elected officials, who have not only invited us to come spend time with them in their local offices and in Raleigh but who have encouraged us to learn more about our government and our civic responsibilities as citizens of this great country.

Disappointments came in torrents for Gen. George Washington in December of 1776. After a series of defeats, General Washington and his Continental Army had been pushed from the Hudson River all the way down to Pennsylvania. Dec. 25, 1776 must have been a particularly hard day for the great general and the remainder of his men. The number of soldiers had dwindled from disease and desertions. Morale was low amongst the remaining men. General Washington, I’m sure, experienced disappointment from his immense losses to the British. The numbers of his army dwindled slowly but surely. The stakes were high – the fate of a fledgling nation hung in the balance. General Washington did not just give up and wallow in his disappointment; instead, he made a bold plan to cross the Delaware. 

Everyone knows the rest of the story about this great crossing. Succumbing to disappointment was simply not in Washington’s credo. Instead, he used it to fuel his military brain and natural leadership skills to motivate his vastly outnumbered forces into defeating the British and paving the way to our freedom.

Your child should use disappointment to strengthen and give her the fortitude to persevere to higher heights. If the unachieved goal has caused disappointment, tell her that her goal was a worthy goal. If the goal were not worthy, she would be indifferent rather than disappointed with the results of her efforts. Any vision or objective that requires sacrifice and struggle is worth achieving. Finally: tell her to keep those who disappoint her in her heart. That acquaintance may have a change of heart and ask for friendship later down the road.

Who knows? Your child who is a leader and role model may be the one who was the catalyst for this change of heart.                   

Joseph is a resident of Salisbury. She is the proud mother of 10-year honor-roll student, Rohan Joseph, who serves his community as president of COVID Busters. Email her at