If you have the opportunity to live long enough, you will encounter disappointment. I’m at a place in my life where I’m beginning and ending a lot of things. I’m taking leaps of faith and trying to navigate adult waters. I’m trying to lay a foundation that will be strong enough to bear the weight of the life I want, and I’m also trying to cultivate the character that will sustain the purpose I know is on my present and future.
That kind of transition and uncertainty is bound to be accompanied by a lot of disappointment.
There have been times when I have put all my eggs in one basket. I’ve placed all my hopes in a person or thing, all my expectations on an outcome, made future plans for one particular (favorable) result. Then the time arrives and I’m all ready for this outcome party. My hair and nails are done; the dress and shoes are on.
When I arrive at the venue I give my name to the hostess and she tells me it’s not on the list. I smile sweetly (no one even spells Daniah correctly). She looks again… still no me. I tell her there must be some mistake, some error on someone’s part because I was most certainly supposed to be here. The panic begins to set in. My heart is racing and my palms are sweating.
I need to be in this room. I need this outcome. This was my only option.
It dawns on me with sudden clarity that I was never invited. I’m all dressed up with nowhere to go. I’m humiliated, defeated, ashamed, probably nauseous, and most definitely disappointed.
Disappointment has a way of making you want to be anywhere except in your skin and bones, where you belong. It permeates so deeply that you can’t seem to escape it. You can’t wash it off, you can’t run from it. Even in the car on the way back to the sanctity of my house where there is no one to gloat or stare or pity the naivety of my hope, the disappointment seems to fill the empty space more completely than any human presence could have. My cheeks burn with chagrin and my hands shake with inward anger as disappointment shouts the dreaded silent question into the tense air, WHAT NOW? WHAT NOW? WHAT NOW?…
How could I be so stupid? How could I dare to believe so deeply? How could I allow myself to lean so heavily on something that wasn’t ever promised to me?
These are the questions we ask ourselves after we’ve scrubbed off the makeup and taken out the hair pins and crawled into bed to weep away the agony of having our hopes shattered. We hate ourselves for expecting good. Why hadn’t we anticipated the bad? Isn’t the bad always so much more likely?
…But what if we hadn’t expected the good? What if we hadn’t gotten all dressed up and showed up at the party?
There is another kind of disappointment – not the crushing, heart-wrenching, surrender-inducing kind that drives us to flee the outcome party in a hissy. No, it’s the kind that will attach itself to every little letdown and slowly builds up. This kind is cunning and dangerous.
After I have my hopes dashed by disappointment, if I don’t process this and forgive myself for hoping, I will wind up in a place where I reserve my hope and expectation almost completely. I will half-heartedly commit to things or only slightly extend a hand at opportunities.
Unresolved disappointment results in fear-based actions. This is when you hold yourself back because the memory of the reality of disappointment is just too real. At this point I go into situations almost expecting to be disappointed. I’m losing faith in myself, questioning myself and what I believe, trying my best to make it seem like I don’t care as opportunity after opportunity is handed to someone else right in front of me. But the truth is that I feel it every time I look out my window and someone is all dressed up and heading to the outcome party, invitation in hand.
Resentment is planted in my belly, and it is watered each time another disappointment comes my way. It begins to corrode my resolve, my confidence, my good will for others, my joy, and my peace. By now a good portion of my mind is preoccupied with pretending I’m not actually severely disappointed, when indeed I am.
The truth is we can try to treat the symptoms of a thing, but the symptoms won’t ever go away unless we figure out what the root cause is.
Disappointment can breed envy and jealousy, depressed thoughts and dark moods, self-hatred and anger, resentment and regret. It can become a valley of poison in your life if it’s not used correctly.
Yes, I said that correctly. I said disappointment can be used. And I don’t mean used for our bad, I mean used for our good.
If you’re capable of being disappointed, it means you still have the courage to care, the strength to want something even after you’ve been told ‘no’, and the drive to go after it. There’s no disputing the fact that rejection sucks. No one likes being told they’re not good enough for something, but giving that something you believe in a chance and being let down is way better than not having the guts to try.
But there’s also no disputing the fact that disappointment is a blow, and it hurts each and every time it happens. If you go for something and you’re not disappointed when the outcome isn’t favorable, I think that means you didn’t much care for it in the first place. So there’s the first thing disappointment does, it helps us zoom in on the things that truly matter to us.
If you’re in a relationship and you have no expectations for the other person; if you can honestly take or leave their company and companionship, if the fact that they said they would do something and never deliver doesn’t bother you anymore, if it is darn near impossible for them to disappoint you, then I don’t think you want that relationship.
Maybe this hardness was built because of an accumulation of disappointments, or maybe you’re just not on the same wavelength as the other person anymore. Either way, I don’t think you want it, and I think it’s best to invest you heart and soul into relationships that are life-giving and fruitful with people who you trust and love, and as a result have the power to disappoint you.
Disappointment can also help us identify what we’re really depending on, what our faith is actually in.
This was the case for me. I realized I was leaning really heavily on what I know, my experiences, and the good grace of other people instead of on my faith. It took showing up to the outcome party a few times for me to realize that I needed to do something differently.
How do we have the courage to pursue what we want in spite of the inevitable disappointments we will encounter?
We get grounded.
Disappointment will relentlessly push at you, and if you’re not grounded, you’ll be thrown over again and again. I think disappointment should strengthen us as it comes, not unearth us. If you’re finding yourself toppled over more than standing straight, I think you should examine your root system.
What’s holding you down right now? What are your dreams and aspirations tethered to? Are you chasing after something because it’s what you really want, or are you chasing after it because it’s what everyone else around you has? Do you believe you have worth and bear purpose even in the midst of your disappointment? Are you putting such high expectations on your pursuits that you’re losing track of who you are without them? Are you allowing your circumstances to tell you that without accomplishments, you are nothing?
These questions all lead back to your roots, where your beliefs lie, where your heart is, who your faith is in. And I think the key to staying upright in disappointing times is drawing from your roots. Sometimes you have to go past the little phrases that people tell someone who has been hurt and really draw from their fundamental truths.
Sometimes, “Well this just proves he wasn’t the man for you,” and “Well that wasn’t the job for you,” and, “You’ll get pregnant soon enough,” and, “You’ll see the results of all your hard work soon enough,” just don’t cut it.
Words are hollow and useless in the face of blinding disappointment. Sometimes there is nothing anyone can say to you that will get you off the bathroom floor and back out there in the game. Sometimes you have to plant your feet and grit your teeth and reach for power from a source outside yourself. Sometimes you have to go past the shallow and straight into the deep end. The harder the blow from disappointment, the deeper your roots need to be in order to withstand it. No one can build that root system for you, only you can identify the areas in your life that need real support and reinforcement.
Whisper your deepest truths to yourself over and over until you believe them again.
Tel yourself that it will get better until you believe it again.
Tell yourself that nothing lasts forever until you believe it again.
Tell yourself that Yahweh will never leave nor forsake you until you believe it again.
Tell yourself that every disappointment is working together for your good until you believe it again.
These are my truths, and it sometimes takes a while for them to travel from the deepest parts of me up to my will and determination to keep going. But even when I’m still on the bathroom floor, one thing is for certain – I was disappointed because I attempted to change for the better. And what’s the point of living if we’re not constantly trying to live a better, more meaningful life?
With each disappointing blow you take and remain standing, you will become stronger. Some people are naturally tough, and some of us have to build this toughness. Some of us have to water our roots a little more than others. Some of us have to remind ourselves what we’re planted in, what we’re made of, a little more than others.
You’re not alone on this lonely road to better, trust me. It’s hard out here for a twenty-something, and it’s even harder for a purpose-driven, twenty-something. But I believe in us, and I trust the timing of our lives. We will make disappointment our mental toughness coach so that when we are finally invited to the outcome party, we will be well-equipped to stay in the room.