This past week, my nine year old daughter found out that she did not make her school talent show. We had struggled with how much to prepare for this possibility…telling her in advance perhaps that many kids may not make it, but it is always good to try? Reassuring her that putting herself “out there” is a good thing independent of the outcome? We decided in the end that we would let her go through her own process of practicing, auditioning, and seeing what happened, and just try to support her in every step.
When she finally shared that she had not made the cut, she was sitting on the floor in a corner of our family room, hidden behind a side table and the cords of a table lamp.
“I am so proud of you for trying…how do you feel about this?” I asked with hesitation.
There was a long pause as she slid a little further from sight. In a quiet, quivery voice she said, “I don’t know…I think I have mixed feelings.”
Two days later I found myself sitting in a funeral, after a dear friend of mine lost her father. An entire community was present to usher this life through, and to support the family of the deceased. The pain and grief was palpable in the room.
And I thought about the entire spectrum of our human experience–from not getting into the school talent show, to losing loved ones–so much of what we struggle to manage in life is disappointment. Minor disappointment to earth shattering, heart breaking disappointment. The imagined and actual loss of an experience, of more time together, or things we dreamed and hoped and wished for.
How do we manage our disappointment? It often feels like it easier to manage big toppling waves of anger or sadness, or the highs of love and joy. Disappointment, along with loneliness, worry, fear, seem to be the emotions that hook into us and keep us up in the dark of night.
The logical, writerly part of me wants to write down a list, “The Top Five Ways to Cope With Disappointment.” And yet the psychiatrist in me, or even deeper than that, the part of me that has struggled with my own deep disappointments in my own life, knows that it can never be that simple. Disappointment is inherently painful and messy. We only feel it when we find ourselves attached to something that feels important to us: getting into college, a new job, acceptance, the first date, a meaningful relationship.
Is the only way to not feel disappointed to not become attached? All of me wholeheartedly believes in living for the moment, for the process, and doing our best to not do something for an end result or goal. But if we are invested enough in something, we are inevitably going to feel sad, upset, lost, embarrassed even, when things don’t turn out as we had hoped. There is no way around it. Yes, we could prevent that if tried to disconnect ourselves emotionally from the experiences and people in our lives, but then would life continue to be full of all of its color and depth and connection?
I would rather throw myself into my life fully, with joy, with hope, with excitement, with surrender, with complete love…all the while knowing that on the other side of that lies tremendous sadness and loss when things go awry as they often will. All we can do is trust that we will find the strength and courage within us to be with all of the emotions that arise through the rise and the fall. We can be there for each other, in spirit and community, supporting each other not just in our successes, but in our mis-steps and darkest moments as well.
Developing trust and strength and courage is hard. It takes time. And ironically, it comes from seeing ourselves through the process of failure, loss, and disappointment. Strength and courage don’t guarantee that it will feel any easier the next time around. We simply develop a frame of reference. We are less fearful because we have become intimate with these difficult emotions before. We have learned how to sit in the shadowed places within ourselves long enough to see the first rays of light come through again. And that is where the learning and growth occur.
So today, and in the week ahead, I invite you to join me in reflecting on where and how you deal with disappointment in your own life. Does the fear of disappointment drive your decisions? Is there a way to be with such difficult emotions with kindness and self compassion?
With gratitude, Monisha