Growing up, there were two kinds of kids: those who experienced disappointment from life’s little setbacks and those who were protected from feeling any of those same disappointments. Fast forward a few decades and now there are two kinds of adults. There are those who face disappointments head-on and bounce back, knowing that life doesn’t always check with us to see how we’d like it to turn out, and there are those who’ve had no practice dealing with disappointment and melt down every time life throws them a curve ball.
Let’s face it—it hurts to be disappointed. However, “disappoint,” per se, is not an emotion; it’s come to mean that we feel “let down,” so to speak, but that’s not the original definition; the original is much stronger. The word itself means “to be unappointed” or, in a more general sense, to be demoted, removed, rejected—in essence, to lose.
Disappointments come in all shapes and sizes. We face minor disappointments when we lose a sports game or the car we wanted or a good grade on a test. More serious disappointments—losses—include lost jobs or promotions; lost opportunities for, say, scholarships or business funding; and lost life experiences such as the ability to live where we’d like, to pursue a talent or passion, or to retire sooner rather than later. And then there are the life-altering, even tragic disappointments in life. These include (but are not limited to) lost relationships or broken marriages; business failures, financial hardships and/or the irrevocable loss of a dream; and the ultimate disappointments—a failed medical treatment, a life-limiting disability, or even a death.
We tend to think of “disappointments” as relatively trivial things, but they’re often not minor losses at all. Moreover, the effects they can have on our emotions, perspectives, and expectations can, the end, be quite devastating and destructive.
The sad truth is that we can’t escape loss and disappointment; it is, unfortunately, part of the human experience. But what happens when we can’t seem to cope with disappointment in any form? For example, what happens when we get the trophy in Little League just for participating—no actual winning required—and then we don’t get the promotion just for showing up for work? What happens when we get to retake the test over and over in high school but in college we get a big, fat, non-negotiable F ? What happens when, as kids, mom and dad never tell us “no” when we want something and then the boss tells us “no” or the police tell us “no” or the person of our dreams tells us “no”? Does that mean “maybe” or “keep asking”? Or is it time for a meltdown because we didn’t get our way?
What if we just can’t deal?
What often happens is that “dealing” with a disappointment means that it’s someone else’s fault. For example, what happens when we lose a position because we didn’t do the job? Is it the boss’s fault, a co-worker’s fault or our mommy’s fault? Do we get angry and demand a “safe space” or do we put on our big-boy pants, hit the asphalt and find another job? But what if the disappointment is someone else’s fault? Maybe it is and maybe it isn’t—I wouldn’t know—but I can say with some certainty that burning buildings or bridges won’t make the situation any better.
Here’s a thought: If we can’t handle the relatively minor disappointments of life, how will we ever be equipped to handle the big disappointments—especially the ones over which we have no control? The economy tanks and so the business fails or the layoffs begin—what then? Will a meltdown get us another job? (Insert Jeopardy theme here.)
What if we experience repeated disappointments? That does happen—a difficult subject in school with multiple failures or a difficult boss at work who evaluates everyone poorly? Do we pitch a fit and blame the teacher or boss? (Well, maybe—for about five minutes.) But do we quit?
Repeated disappointments and failures are the worst, the most debilitating. Sometimes, in the face of failed dreams, broken relationships or multiple rejections, it’s difficult not to take those losses and failures personally. Sometimes people quit, stamping themselves “NOT GOOD ENOUGH!” Sometimes people get angry and rage at themselves, at others—even at God. And sometimes people simply lose hope—any expectation at all that they might succeed or that things will ever get better. Sometimes repeated disappointments can even lead to despair.
If we learn to manage our disappointment over small things, then we’ll be better equipped to handle the larger disappointments life likes to sling.
Furthermore, the ability to deal is not a talent, it’s a skill. The ability to cope without a meltdown can be developed—and it needs to be.
Hopefully, we begin to learn this while we’re younger rather than older. It’s wonderful to protect our children but there’s a rather big difference between protecting them from actual danger and protecting them from hearing that they lost a ballgame.
The bottom line is that we’re not doing ourselves or anyone else any favors when we don’t deal well with disappointments. Here’s life truth #36: The inability to handle loss and disappointment only breeds more loss and disappointment.
Disappointments and losses will come—Jesus even said so.
Don’t let them destroy you.