When Life Disappoints

Sad kid

I admit I’m an idealist and tend to think of the best in everything and everyone. And I end up feeling disappointed when things don’t work out as intended, in spite of my best efforts.

As we all know, reality rules, whether we like it or not.

We can expect and hope for certain outcomes. We may get them … and … we may not. A dream is shattered, a relationship fails, a career disintegrates, or a health scare rocks our entire existence. Just to name a few.

And these are big life-changing events. What about the tiny disappointments that we face every day? The remote control doesn’t work, the car breaks down, traffic jams, the alarm clock malfunctions and we don’t wake up on time, a presentation software craps out just before the meeting. Just to name a few.

I’ve noticed lately that my ego doesn’t really care about the magnitude of disappointment.

As I look deeper, it seems that I respond better in life and death situations than the little annoyances. In significant situations, survival instincts take over, the body responds almost without thought. The mind hardly has any time to analyze and whine.

But with the little stuff, there is no real danger for the body to take over. So the ego-mind has a field day. And the ego does not really care about how significant an event is. It’s like a two-year old ready to throw a tantrum the moment she hears no.

It’s fine if we throw a fit and get over it quickly (like a two-year old). But as adults our responses and feelings create patterns that we tend to repeat and dwell in. This is where a tiny disappointment can escalate to a dark mood that ruins our day.

What do we do? Can we not feel disappointed in the first place? Or can we live with disappointment?

I want to share with you a silly example that shows what happens when we allow the little stuff to get to us, and how we can choose differently in challenging situations

The cycle of disappointment

A few days back I wanted to help a family member with a device that extends the remote control signal on a satellite receiver. We bought the device and tested it at home. Everything went smoothly. So it was time to get it to work on the receiver’s remote control and this is what happened.

Set an expectation for a favorable and effortless outcome. I expected that it would take no more than 5-10 minutes to set up and test the device.

Things didn’t work out the way intended. The device didn’t work. I tried it in different locations and used different plugs but it didn’t work. Every ten or so clicks it worked once.

Felt frustrated. I didn’t see a reason why it wouldn’t work. After a few attempts I felt frustrated.

Took forced action. I tested the device again, and it worked, but not on the satellite receiver’s remote.

Frustration turned to anger. I kept banging my head trying to find an explanation, so I

Took more forced action. Instead of working with the native remote control that came with satellite receiver, I thought let me try and program a universal remote. Maybe I’ll have better luck. I couldn’t find a code for the satellite receiver. It’s an old one that’s been discontinued and I couldn’t find the manual for the universal remote. So we had to spend time online looking for instructions.

Anger turned into blame and resentment. As I continued to struggle, I started feeling resentful—an outdated technology and no documentation. I blamed my family and then started feeling bad for myself. Poor me: I had to deal with this situation.

Took things out on other people. My tone changed and I started firing back snarky remarks at anyone who said anything.

Finally gave up. After two hours of trying and struggling I decided to give up and went home –angry and frustrated.

But not really, I kept at it at home. Instead of letting things go, I went online and started digging more. In that state I couldn’t find anything useful. I ended up with more confusion.

Anger and frustration turned into a bad mood. At this point I was in a dark place. I wasted my time and energy for nothing. On top of it I felt disappointed and angry.

Feeling bad for taking it out on other people. As time went by, I started thinking about the unfair and reactive things I said to others and I felt bad.

Regret and guilt added to the bad mood. I felt worse and worse: disappointed, angry, frustrated, guilty and every other shade of darkness.

Feeling stuck in negativity. The negative feelings took over and I didn’t feel like doing anything.

Stuckness turned into an idle negative state. At least before I was trying to do something. Now I was stewing over things that happened without any helpful outcome.

A way out of disappointment

Now that the darkness set in, here is what happened after that helped me snap out of it.

Stepped out of the situation—luckily for me, I got hungry. I had to prepare dinner. As I moved in the kitchen I felt better. I realized that I needed to apologize to others instead of feeling bad.

Looked at the whole picture and gained perspective. As I calmed down, I started looking at the whole situation. A few of the realizations that came to mind:

  • I didn’t have to do anything. No one was expecting me to buy the device. It was my choice. And it was my choice to find another remote control.
  • I learned that the device doesn’t work in this situation. If I didn’t try it, I would’ve never known, and it would’ve been always an option. Closure is a gift.
  • Things didn’t get worse. I expended time and energy but I didn’t break anything. So things were left off as they were before. No loss in this situation is a gain.
  • Everyone is doing the best they can. We all do the best we know how in any given situation. My family losing the instructions manual or using an old receiver is not an attempt to annoy me. It’s not personal.
  • It’s okay to feel negative emotions. It’s better to accept the disappointment, anger, and frustration. Arguing with emotions or feeling bad about feeling bad is fuel for more.

Took a break. I decided it’s better to sleep on it for a day and see how I feel about it tomorrow. Sometimes all we need is a bit of time to allow our subconscious to process and come up with helpful ideas. Doing something else (or not doing anything at all) for a while clears the emotional clutter.

Made a decision. The next day I weighed all my options and decided that it’s best to give up, return the new device and accept that things didn’t work out. We all agreed that it’s best to let things be and when the time comes, replace the satellite receiver with newer technology.

And I was done. Once we make a decision and see it through, we feel better. Even if we didn’t solve a problem, accepting that it is not going to be solved gives us peace.

Moving forward

It’s better to be mentally and emotionally prepared for disappointment. This way when reality strikes, we’re  better equipped to face the challenges without feeding the negativity. In the future I will remind myself of the following:

Neutralize expectations

It would be great if we did’t have any expectations at all. But who am I kidding? In most situations when we’re planning ahead of time, there is an expectation of success. And that’s okay. All we need to do is balance it out.

We usually hope for the best outcome possible. Determine what’s the worst possible outcome, and how we’re going to respond to it.

Do your best with what you’ve got

Take action as you intended. If things get complicated, stop.

Knowing when to stop is as important as knowing what to do. When we dig ourselves deeper we’re digging our emotions and expectations deeper as well.

Trust and let go, at least for a while

If things don’t work out, stop and go do something else. No one gains any meaningful insight in the midst of an emotional volcano.

See how you feel about it after a while. When we take a break we allow ourselves to feel what we’re supposed to feel. It’s more helpful to go with the feeling than trying to stifle (or worse analyze) it.

Feeling something doesn’t mean we act on it. We just let the emotion run its course in our body till it fades out.

Make a decision: continue with calm action or give up

If after a while you came up with a solution, do it. If there is nothing else you can do, know that you gave it your best and let it go.

This is not about admitting defeat. It’s about accepting reality. Sometimes what we want to do doesn’t work out. It’s better to let it go and move on.

Disappointment is part of life. We can’t avoid it, we can’t fight it, and we can’t eliminate it. We can, however, choose to deal with it and learn from it. Every experience is a growth opportunity.

“Disappointment is the nurse of wisdom” ~ Bayle Roche