Dealing With Disappointment


Look hard. There is a waterfall in the center of that picture Yesterday, we made the (in)famous drive to Hana on the island of Maui. (If you’re not sure what that is, read about it here.) I had the pleasure of driving this twisting, one-lane bridged, switch-backed, 60+ mile route in a Ford Explorer. (I asked the rental company about a smaller vehicle. Not available.) Actually, the road was much improved compared to the last time Julie and I made the trek several years ago. The driving wasn’t so bad. However, as the picture suggests, much of the reason for making the trip turned out to be utter disappointment. Many of the waterfalls were a trickle. Many of the pools of water were dried up. It was a disappointing trip.

Similarly, this morning we went snorkeling at what is supposed to be one of Maui’s best snorkeling sites: Black Rock. I’ve snorkeled many times around the Hawaiian islands. Based on what I saw today, I can’t imagine why Black Rock is supposed to be one of the best. We saw a few fish, but very few. No turtles either. There are supposed to be several turtles at Black Rock. We chatted with a couple on the beach who snorkels at Black Rock regularly. They, too, said it was surprisingly disappointing.

So what’s a leader to do with disappointment? Here are some quick thoughts on that subject. (I’m still on vacation. I’m going to get back with my family as soon as I’m done with this post.)

Put it in perspective. While the waterfalls and pools on the Hana Highway were dismal compared to our previous two trips, all the other aspects of the journey were great: the black sand beach at Waianapanapa State Park, the lava formations and crashing surf at Keanae, the shave ice in Hana, the rainbow eucalyptus trees, and more. Don’t let one disappointing issue define an entire experience.

Take another run at it. The snorkeling experience this morning doesn’t mean all snorkeling visits to Black Rock will be bad. We decided to go back again tomorrow, earlier in the day, because the surf will likely be calmer. That leads to another point …

Understand more about the issue. One of the reasons that the snorkeling at Black Rock was poor was because the surf was more active today. This drives the sea life away to safer environs. Earlier in the morning, the surf should be calmer. Understanding how the water works in this particular location helps explain what caused the disappointing results. Similarly, the waterfalls along the Hana Highway might have been only a trickle because East Maui Irrigation Co might have shut some of them off. (Yes. They can actually do that.)

Stay focused on the big picture. The real reason we’re here in Hawaii is a family vacation. This is the first trip here for our sons. (Julie and I have lost track on how many trips we’ve made here. Do we like Hawaii? Sort of, I guess. (That was sarcasm.)) The important thing is that we are having time together as a family, and we each need a break. (See Robert’s article, Leaders Need A Break.) Purpose can be found despite disappointment when the big picture is front and center. The trip to Hana and the snorkeling were disappointing, but we were together, not working. Mission accomplished.

Disappointment is a part of every leader’s experience. (It is part of every person’s experience.) You can’t let it become your center focus, though.

I’m going to go people-watching with my family in Lahaina now.


Dr. Scott Yorkovich is a leadership coach and consultant. He works with individuals, small and medium organizations, and ministries. Contact him at ScottYorkovich[at] with your questions.

Photo by author.

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