TOM #13: How to avoid disappointment

Posted on: August 28, 2022

A clear vision of what you want makes it easier for you to get it. It’s why visioning is such a key part of coaching.

But what happens when you get it…and it doesn’t satisfy you? 

In today’s issue, I explore what’s been emerging in my practice on this topic lately and offer prompts to help you 1) expose if and how you might be on your way to disappointment and 2) prevent it. 

Set aside time if you wanna get the most out of this issue…there are lots of self-coaching questions!

Part 1. Unexpected disappointment.

What I find thematic among many successful owners, is their business does not bring them as much joy and/or satisfaction as they anticipated it would. 

What has been your experience so far?

  • How fulfilled are you by your work?
  • How satisfied are you by your business?
  •  In what ways are you disappointed by your business, if at all?

It’s painful to work really hard at something only to discover it doesn’t feel as good as you thought it would or that the good feelings don’t last. Hedonic treadmill? Maybe, but…

I’ve noticed that this disappointment is not isolated to the business. Instead, it also shows up in other parts of these owners’ lives, particularly in key relationships (both business and personal ones).

Which has had me curious about root causes. And the theme that’s emerged is this:

Most owners know what they want.

But few know what they need.

They know what the business needs and stay curious about how those needs adapt and shift.

But they’re not all that aware of what they themselves need or how their needs shift (or have shifted).

Perhaps this is true for you, too. Let’s find out!

How does disappointment happen?

My hypothesis is that the disappointment and the feelings of lack…lack of joy, lack of energy, lack of whatever…stem from owners’ needs that are left unfulfilled. And typically, these needs have gone unseen (or denied as being needs).

If you’re like many entrepreneurs, you’re able to create something from virtually nothing. You pride yourself on how little you need, and you’re prepared to go without as long as your business needs you to.

You’re also likely mistaking some needs as wants. 

What’s the difference between a want and a need?

First, let’s define the words we’re using. Distinctions are key to getting on each other’s maps, so take a moment to consider these questions. [Unsure what I mean by “each other’s maps”? Check out the last issue of TOM Issue #12: How empathy works).]

  • What’s the difference between a want and a need, for you?
  • What lets you know something is a need?
  • What was the belief system around wants and needs that you grew up with? [If it feels relevant, make note of the varied ways in which you witnessed important people in your life talking about or accommodating theirs and your wants and needs or what was said by them about people having wants or needs.]
  • How has what you were taught to believe impacted the role of needs in your life?

My definition

I contend that when a need is not met, some harm occurs. This harm might be mild, reparable, and/or inexpensive…but it’s likely that when this lack occurs multiple times or it is chronic, it (eventually) causes damage both to you and to the people and things that matter to you.

For example, the plant on my desk can go days without sun and water…but after two weeks, the lack of sun and water will weaken it. A few leaves will likely yellow and wither to the point they can’t be revived. But when the blinds are opened again and it’s given a good drink, it’ll revive. I don’t know how long and what additional support it will need to fully recover to the level of health and vitality it currently has, but it’s certainly not coincident with the moment sun and water are provided. [No plants were harmed in the creation of this analogy.]

Your definition

I suspect that you have made trades like this for your business (and relationships). That you’ve elected to go without some amount of sun and water.

And that you’ve blazed forward without a rest or providing yourself additional support after periods without (enough) sun and water.

Are you engaged in or recovering from that sort of trade right now?

If so, use your current experience for reference as you move through the upcoming questions. If not, call to mind a time when you were choosing to go without some “sun” and “water”.

  • Did (do) you want sun and water? Or did (do) you need sun and water? 
  • How do you define the level that distinguishes a need from a want? 
  • How much sun and water do you need, if any?
  • How does this level change, if at all? Based on what factors, if any?
  • How does the level change when set for yourself versus other people, if at all?

Speaking of sun...for most of my two decades in the Navy, I worked in windowless spaces (required when handling classified material). Working in the windowless back offices of Marty’s Market felt normal. But I often found myself attempting to work at the cafe counter where sunlight was pouring in through the garage doors and walls of windows. I struggled to concentrate there, but I felt much better. 

Turns out in order for me to be highly productive, I need natural light and zero distractions. I was reluctant to acknowledge and accept this, but now I understand that these things aren’t wants, they’re actually needs. 🤯☀️🤫📈


  • What do you believe about wants and needs, now?
  • How would you like your relationship with needs to be, now? [Many people feel like it’s not okay to have needs. If this feels true for you, reply and let me know. I can help.]
  • What have you learned (or been reminded about)?

Part 2. How to avoid disappointment

Many successful owners have plenty, yet feel unsatisfied in the most important aspects of their lives. It’s like sitting at a table with plates full of food, but feeling insatiably hungry.

Needs are foundational. When you don’t get what you need, it’s quite challenging to feel fulfilled when you get what you want. 

What good is a home with the layout and location of your dreams if you can’t use the sinks? 

What good is nailing your KPIs when you’re unrecoverably exhausted? 

What good is industry recognition when you have no one to celebrate with?

What good is it to pursue what you want when you’re not sure it will satisfy what you need?

Identify and define your needs

Won’t it be powerful when you know what you need?!

Some needs are obvious and some will take effort to identify, especially those that are hidden in plain sight. Some needs are durable and others change.

The questions that follow will hopefully help you begin drafting your needs inventory and pursuing their satisfaction.

  • What do you need to feel safe?

  • What do you need to feel like you belong?

  • What do you need to be physically healthy?

  • What do you need to be mentally healthy?

  • What do you need to be emotionally/psychologically healthy?

  • What do you need to lead with confidence?

  • What do you need to do your best work?

  • What gives your life meaning or purpose?

  • What else do you need?

Once you know what you need, you can take action to get them met (rather than ignoring them or believing you don’t have any). You can invest your time, energy, and attention in satisfying them rather than be distracted by things that don’t help you take care of you.

Let your complaints help you

Another approach for uncovering your needs is to consider the complaints you have in your business (and relationships).

  • What are you tolerating?

  • What are you ignoring?

  • Who/what are you resenting?

  • What are you feeling that you’d rather not feel?

  • What isn’t happening that you need to be?

  • What have you learned?

  • What requests do you have of others?

  • What requests do you have of yourself?

  • What would you like to do next?

I encourage you to keep learning about your needs and to resource yourself as well as you do your business and team. Everyone does better when you're getting what you need.

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