It’s not uncommon to arrive at those long stretches in our jobs or careers where we’re putting in a lot of time and effort, but not seeing much results. And it can be very disappointing. We may start to feel like a failure or give up on our goals.

I was recently talking with a coaching client who said “I’ve been doing everything I can to grow my coaching business so I can let go of my current job. But I’m still not able to generate enough income through it and am wondering whether I should just drop the idea.”

I call it the ninety degrees phenomenon. Why? Because water boils at a hundred degrees and nothing less. If you didn’t know that, you may remove your pot from the stove at ninety, at ninety five, even ninety nine degrees thinking nothing will happen—not realizing you were on the brink of magic.

If you’re feeling disappointed and discouraged by all the time, money or effort you’re putting in without seeing much progress—it could be at work, it could be in your home or relationships, it could be toward your health, fitness or mindfulness goals—here are a few things you can do to change that and avoid giving up on heartfelt goals when success isn’t that far down the road.

Two actions to keep the motivation alive when feeling disappointed 

Know your why

Your why is the reason you want what you want. Being connected to your why shifts you from external markers of success such as power, possessions and prestige (which can be crippling because of the fear of failure or criticism) to something far more purposeful.

It may take a little digging to find your why. Sometimes our first answer is indeed based on external markers. If you want a promotion, you may assume that having more money is the end goal. If so, continue asking: 

  • And why is that important, until you find something that feels joyful or purposeful.
  • Will it allow you to send your child to college? To travel the world? To hire help so you have more time for yourself?

A why grounded in purpose is a strong pull force in the face of fears and challenges that will undoubtedly come up as you pursue your goals. Think of it like you and your child; if a tiger were to come between the two of you, will you turn around and run away? Or will you do whatever it takes to get to your child? We all know the answer!

Make it joyful

Joy is the compass of the soul. Research shows that it builds resilience and makes the journey worthwhile regardless of the outcome. Because the reality is that we can’t fully control whether our book becomes a bestseller, whether our relationship grows into what we aspire, or we get asked to give a TED talk.

There are limits to our repertoire of agency. But we can control the energy we bring to our pursuits. 

What are the thoughts you’ll refuse to engage with, the emotions you’ll invite into your space, the tangible behaviors you’ll do—maybe talk to the people for whom you work to feel the joy of making a positive impact? Maybe put flowers on your table, or music, or your favorite jacket instead of just rolling out of bed in your pjs and hating every new email that lands in your inbox.

When I was writing my book Goodbye, Perfect during the pandemic, there were days I started feeling utterly disappointed, dejected, and didn’t have the energy to write a word. What always got me out of my funk was playfulness; even though it was alone in my little room, I would wear red lipstick, put on my high heels, and pretend I was a famous writer working on her next bestseller.

What may do the trick for you?


The famous writer Mary Oliver said that we’re all two selves—the social self who is tied to external barometers of success. And the creative self who lives for joy and meaning. A successful life, she said, was about integrating the two together.

So whatever your goals, connect them to a heartfelt why, and then let go of the outcome. Enjoy the process. Because at the end of the day, the process is your life. As the writer Annie Dillard said: “How we spend our days is of course how we spend our lives.”

A version of this article originally appeared on Forbes.

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