Overcoming Disappointment


“Disenchantment, whether it is a minor disappointment or a major shock, is the signal that things are moving into transition in our lives.”  – William Throsby Bridges

I have gone through a very rough patch in recent times and though I have tried to put a brave face on things I have had to acknowledge to myself that I am disappointed with the way in which my life has unfolded over the past few years.  Of course, there are many responses possible for me in this situation, and obviously I’ve been trying some of them; but I think that it is time to move on, and to recapture the spirit that once made me great.

Yes, I said “great”.  For although I may not have been a world leader, a Nobel Laureate, or a celebrity of any sort, and I will not emerge from this exercise being any closer to any of these ideal states, I was closer to being the kind of person whom I admired, and who I pretend to be today.

 So, what will be my new response to the realities of my life?  I think that I will have to learn to understand my place in the world, and to be contented with it.  I have a poem that I plan to publish here in which I am an ordinary, unadorned jug fashioned by the potter’s hands for his own use.  I may not be the most beautiful piece that he has created, but since he made me for himself he put his very best work into me, regardless of what others may think.  I have to see myself as that potter and simultaneously my life as the clay jug.  I may put out phenomenal effort at work, and for my family and friends, but in a way, my best work will have to be the life that I carve out for myself.

 So, I’ve been thinking about it and I plan to do the following:

 –          Acknowledge that I am disappointed with how things have turned out

-          Gain perspective: Ask myself why it was that I expected things to turn out otherwise

-          Seek solutions for getting out of my rut and then take action

 For it is only through these simple (though not necessarily easy) steps that I can regain control and move to the next level of my journey up in life.

 1. Acknowledge that I am disappointed with how things have turned out:

 “If we will be quiet and ready enough, we shall find compensation in every disappointment.” – Henry David Thoreau

For me, the first step in overcoming disappointment is to acknowledge, honestly, that I am disappointed in how things have turned out.  I think that this is important because I believe that if I mislabel my emotions, I will not be able to deal with them effectively.  Disappointment can come in many guises: fear, depression, anger, bitterness, resentment toward others, unrealistic hoping, denial and apathy.  In a way, I think that disappointment is more complex than any of these because it often encompasses all of these emotional states simultaneously.

By acknowledging that I am disappointed I give myself permission to be pensive or angry or unhappy, jealous or resentful or to long for things, the achievement of which would be almost beyond my wildest dreams.  These emotions are no longer shadows lurking in the background of my subconscious.  I have turned the full blaze of my scrutiny on them, and acknowledged them, and so made myself ready to deal with them.  I have taken a step away from my funk and toward genuine maturity.

 2. Gain perspective: Ask myself why it was that I expected things to turn out otherwise:

“I give and give, even when I get nothing back – and that sets me up for disappointment.” – Angie Stone

So, having acknowledged that I am not happy with the way in which things have turned out I have to understand why it is that I feel this way.  If you think about it seriously, life happens, so why is it that I wanted more?  Why did I expect to have all my stories turned into movies?  Why did I think that my child would be in the gifted rather than the special needs programme at school? Why did I expect that my partner would marry me or that he would be wealthy enough to look after me?  Why did I expect a straight A average at school or to be the Vice President of the company after five years?  These are all worthy goals and there is absolutely nothing wrong with wanting the green leaves in life.

The truth is that I believe, and I am sure that there are few people anywhere in the world who would contradict me, that I deserve to be happy in this life.  My disappointment indicates that I have defined what happiness means to me and have operationalized it in terms of these indicators.  I have then measured my standard of happiness against these ideals and determined my response to my life based upon the results of these tests. There is nothing wrong with that per se.  The problem though arises if I have made mistakes in deciding what is truly important in life and so chosen wrong indicators.

I remember vaguely a story from my childhood reader in which a man was approached by a spirit of some sort and offered the choice of ‘success without skill’ or ‘skill without success’ in his ability to play the bagpipes.  Without hesitation, he opted to have skill without success and so was granted outstanding skill and phenomenal success.  He became the most gifted of the McCrimmon pipers because he knew what was genuinely most important in life.  I may have been very young when I read that, but that story has haunted me greatly throughout my life and so I have always wanted to have skill in everything that I do, even if I have no success in anything.  I have had to draw on this resolve in recent months in virtually every sphere of my life, and it is only because I remember what my true measure of success is that I have managed to survive.

3. Seek solutions for getting out of my rut and then take action:

“Burning desire to be or do something gives us staying power – a reason to get up every morning or to pick ourselves up and start in again after a disappointment.” – Marsha Sinetar

This is not to say that I have not had to lean on the shoulders of others.  I have had many of you reading this spend time talking me down from the proverbial ledge.  Many of you suspected that my brave smiles and playful nature masked the face of someone in great pain.  You were kind to me when I couldn’t be kind to myself and for this I thank you.  I have chosen to surround myself with more of you instead of retreating into my private space to lick my wounds.

For me, the key to actually OVERCOMING my disappointment lies in taking my life in a different direction.  This involves digging my way out of my rut and crawling to the other side of the chasm.  Simply sitting there and thinking about doing these things will get me nowhere.  In fact, if I’m not careful I will have wasted even more of my time and ended up in a worse place if I do not turn my thoughts into action, because then I will have painted my disappointment with a patina of regret!

So, with my new understanding and acceptance of myself and the things that are most important to me I have welcomed new people into my life and found genuine delight in their company.  Through this social growth I have found a slew of new friends who have reminded me about the things that I enjoy.  My friends are both wise and WONDERFUL, but some of my disappointment is that I often get left behind when their interests move on, or for that matter, if mine do.  I may not have set the place alight with my stories and poems, but I have found some amazing new friends on other fora through which I would never have done if I hadn’t stepped out and reached for something that was just beyond my grasp.  My disappointment in the results of that leap of faith is what has brought them to me, since, were I more successful, we would have probably passed each other like ships in the night.

There is other, more personal psychological growth too.  With my new maturity, I will not ascribe blame for my limiting circumstances to anyone else because this solves nothing.  Even if someone else had a significant part to play in the outcome of my life the truth is that at the bottom line, my progress and my happiness, are my responsibility.  I was the co-dependent person who did not move on when I realised years ago that my relationship was going nowhere.  I was the one who allowed that opportunity in life to pass me by!

As painful as it is, I have to be honest with myself about the effort that I made to make things work.  Did I work hard enough to deserve that promotion? Did I really put enough time into that project? Did I study enough for that exam?  Have I really paid as much attention to my partner or to my friends as I think I have?  Have I encouraged the right people in my life?  If the answer to any of these questions casts me in a bad light then I will have to mourn my failures and learn to forgive myself as I would do my child if (s)he made a mistake; for remember, I am the first child whom I ever loved.   I have to extend a helping hand up in the form of consolation in the lesson learned from the situation, and celebrate mentally the fact that I am a stronger and wiser person for having learned that moral.

There is nothing magical about overcoming disappointment.  There is nothing that I can do to banish disappointment permanently from my life except to die, and since I have no plans to do that anytime soon I have to learn to roll with life’s punches.  My attitude to life and my quest for happiness have to change.   I cannot accept that I will never, ever be happy in life again if I am told that I will never have children of my own.  I cannot stay down after being fired or after my spouse leaves me.  I must not die myself if my child does, no matter how much I may want to.  For to do that, I will allow the rest of my life to slip away unlived, and I will wake up one day aged 100, an EXTREMELY disappointed old lady.

About Gabrielle Burns

I am a Jamaican at play here in this vast playground in cyberspace....Yes, at times I do like to live dangerously, but I AM also working hard at becoming more interesting by the day... :)
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