When they were young, my daughters and I loved to read a book called “Everyone Poops.” The book teaches youngsters that doing their thing on the toilet is a natural and simple part of life. But actually seeing the illustrations of animals and people and babies pooping gave them fits of laughter.
Now, years later, having graduated from Potty Training University, my kids are learning a new, and more difficult, lesson: Everybody experiences disappointment.
The simple act of living and being connected with others sets us up to have endings that are less than we might want. But so far, as I try to pass on what I’ve learned, knowing there is plenty to go around hasn’t seemed to help them overcome their disappointments any more easily. I can’t blame them. Having been delivered disappointment more than a few times in my life should make me a “disappointment ninja” by now.
Often, I still get cold-cocked when my expectations are undermined by reality just as if I were in a boxing ring. Even the fear of disappointment, as natural as it might be, is enough to stop some from even trying. The difference now–and what I eventually am able to focus on–is the universality of disappointment. I am not unique in getting bent by life. This realization often helps me put my own difficulties into perspective. And this is what I am shooting for with my kids.
For example, I recently found out that I was not selected for a job I really wanted. I mean really wanted. I was so determined to get the job that I relentlessly researched and prepared for my interviews, which all seemed to go really well. I was so confident that I would be selected that I began to make tentative connections with potential clients and associates as if I already had the job.
Then the call came. They chose someone else. Granted, the person they chose was extremely well qualified, and, if I have to admit it, even had an edge in experience. Nevertheless, I was devastated. What’s more, the call came during a family vacation, so I didn’t have a lot of time to sit around and mope. “C’mon Dad, we have to get to going. Aren’t we going to go to the Falls?” my kids implored. It was later that night in talking with my fiancé that the full magnitude of my failed efforts hit me.
No new job. No exciting transition to new worlds of possibilities. No new achievements. No new colleagues. No new salary. All the usual stuff you get when you don’t get the job.
It was when my daughter Grace asked me, “Dad, are you really sad you didn’t get the job?” that I realized I couldn’t hang out in Disappointment Valley too long.
What I have begun teaching my kids as best I can because I’ve only recently figured out some of this stuff myself is how long disappointment sticks around is a choice we all make. It’s not that life goes awry for only us. Everybody gets hit. And each of us can choose what happens next when it does. True, I put everything into getting that job and I didn’t get it. So I get to feel lousy for a few minutes and then I must move on. I can not regret my efforts because without them I couldn’t even entertain the possibilities that arise from getting a new job. I also can not let the fact that I didn’t get this job deter me from still looking.
A therapist friend has a useful approach to handling disappointment. She believes that, like a lot of feelings in life, there is a positive intent in disappointment. It’s up to us to figure out what the positive intent is. This is akin to turning the question away from, “Why me?” to “What can I learn from this?” And that serves us way better.
Don’t get me wrong. I am still not happy that I didn’t get THE job. And I still have to find a new one. But I’ve come to believe that there is something else around the corner that will be even better for me. The bigger part is hoping that seeing how I handled this and other disappointments that come my way will give my daughters confidence when things go awry for them.