I was recently on a panel discussion at work on the topic of diversity where the word ‘disappointment’ was used several times. It struck me that I have heard this word a lot lately – how we are disappointed in this response or statement or action. Most of the time it is said as a comment to an event. I believe saying something to a third party, not specifically involved in the ‘disappointment act’, is the definition of paying it lip service. Do we get past the letdown just by speaking words?
Growing up, nothing was more troubling for me as disappointing my parents, or for that matter anyone who believed in me, like a coach or teacher. As a parent, having a conversation around being disappointed is necessary. Same as if I were a coach or leader. Feeling disappointed and then working through the disappointment are two divergent levels of accountability.
I still have a performance review from 2012 where my boss was clearly disappointed in my performance. I took this comment seriously, but first needed to get passed taking it personally. I took steps to improve my performance and eliminate any future disappointment.
Disappointment comes from the mismatch between reality and expectation, an error in our framework of reality. Reality is the constant; our expectation is what needs adjusting. The reason we feel disappointed is because we discovered the truth and this truth is not what we thought it would be. A key to avoiding disappointment is setting, clarifying, and communicating realistic expectations – beforehand! Paraphrasing Shakespeare, “Expectation is the root of all heartache.”
There are disappointments that can change the course of our lives. They can be a troubleshooting tool to understand gaps in our perception of reality. We can understand more about ourselves and the world around us. We can become more knowledgeable and wiser. We can act or correct a course of action to better achieve our goals. Disappointment can make us stronger.
Disappointment can be avoided by becoming an underachiever. By setting the bar low and avoiding challenges. By reigning in hopes and dreams and living a mediocre and unfulfilled life, one of apathy. Disappointment is a better emotional state than apathy. Apathy is a “symptom of resignation” and chronic apathy manifests itself into cynicism. “A cynic is not merely one who reads bitter lessons from the past; he is one who is prematurely disappointed in the future.” – Sydney J. Harris
A better strategy is to become a ‘balanced’ overachiever. Setting high goals and understanding we will not be perfect, enables disappointment to provide us with valuable information about our beliefs, perspectives, and what gives us joy. “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do.”- Mark Twain
I empathize with today’s graduating seniors who did everything right in their college career only to be unemployed and looking for work in a bleak job market. Same for couples who planned their weddings or high school athletes losing a season of competition. Experiencing disappointment is only the start of the process. Disappointment needs to be channeled into productivity. Words alone do not solve issues. Statements of disappointment will gradually go away as time passes. Winners are disappointed when something they expected doesn’t come to fruition; but they’re not devastated, and they don’t quit.
Disappointment, defeat, and even apparent failure are in no way permanent conditions unless we choose to make them so. In fact, these painful experiences can be the solid foundation on which to build future success. Consider the Wright brothers. After one of their disappointing flying experiments, it is recorded that Wilbur commented to Orville, “Man won’t fly for a thousand years”. They turned initial disappointment into success.
“One’s best success comes after their greatest disappointments.” — Henry Ward Beecher
The Bible’s uniform message, Old Testament and New, is that failure and disappointment are an inevitable part of the human experience. The Bible is full of disappointed people. There were years of disappointment experienced by Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel, Hannah, and Elizabeth due to their childlessness. Job and Joseph suffered dearly, but instead of remaining disappointed in their God, they worshiped. Elijah the prophet expected the great evidence of God’s power on Mount Carmel would bring revival; instead, it only put a price on his head. Moses was disappointed in people as well as God.
Jesus’ disciples knew what it was to be disappointed. They believed that Jesus was the Messiah and He would usher in the Messianic kingdom. Instead, He was crucified and buried. And all their hopes were buried with Him in that tomb.
A strategy Satan uses to defeat us starts with simple disappointment. But disappointment that worsens becomes discouragement and disillusionment. Then it can proceed to depression and defeat. Isaiah urges us not to give way to discouragement (40:29-31), “He gives power to the faint, abundant strength to the weak. Though young men faint and grow weary, and youths stagger and fall, They that hope in the LORD will renew their strength, they will soar on eagles’ wings; They will run and not grow weary, walk and not grow faint.”
My Dad rarely quoted scripture, but the one verse he referenced often was the line from Psalms (118:24), “This is the day the LORD has made; let us rejoice in it and be glad.” Rejoicing allows no room for disappointment.
Paul thrived by turning his potential disappointment into a written testimony to the saving power of Jesus. In Philippians (4:6-7), “Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God. Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” Plus, in his second letter to the Corinthians (12:9-10), “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” I will rather boast most gladly of my weaknesses, in order that the power of Christ may dwell with me. Therefore, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and constraints, for the sake of Christ; for when I am weak, then I am strong.”
Disappointment can put us in the right place at the right time. The expression is that “Disappointments are God’s appointments.” God’s plan will always be greater than our disappointments. We don’t know His ways; we need to have faith and trust in His promise. Every disappointment is an opportunity to look to Christ, an opportunity to be God’s Huckleberry