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Disappointment and how to deal with it

Starting his matric year, my son returned to school, expecting to be chosen house prefect. He wasn’t. When he got home I felt his anger and disappointment as keenly as he did, but couldn’t find a decent opening to offer him some words of comfort. Until he asked me to help him with his English homework. This entailed having to prepare a speech on a subject of his choice. I said, ‘let me write it for you.’

“Today I am going to talk about disappointment. They say in life there are only two certainties – death and taxes. I would like to venture a third, and that is disappointment – although I suppose death can be quite disappointing if you are not ready to go. But whether it is just not winning the lottery; not getting the job; or not being made house prefect – life is definitely going to be full of disappointments.

If we recognize this up front, we are in a better position to confront them and turn them to our advantage.

Some disappointments are so expected, that when they happen, they vindicate our expectations and actually make us feel alright. Like not winning the lotto. We expect not to win and therefore when we don’t, we are proved correct. This is a preventative mechanism we automatically set up in our psyches, so that when we don’t win, we can deal with it. People who didn’t win the week before, instead of shunning the lotto as being dishonest or crooked or plain unlucky, go and buy more tickets to prove again they are not going to win. (I’m not saying people don’t want to win, they do, while knowing they won’t.)

However, when pride is at stake, we have a different reaction. For instance, like not getting a job promotion, or not being made prefect at school. If we fail in these situations, because they are personal, we take the disappointment to heart and our reaction is not always logical or productive. Sometimes, confronted by a decision that didn’t go our way, we simply give up and retreat. The less savory reaction is when we squeal and fight and rail against the decision; when we irrationally decide we are going to, “show them” – them usually being the much more powerful authorities – so we engage in destructive, undermining behavior that doesn’t benefit anyone. By behaving like that we also simply prove that they were right not to choose us in the first place. Unfortunately, in the heat of emotion, that irony is often lost on us.

But by knowing that we are going to be faced with disappointments, we can elect to deal with them, long before they arrive. And we can decide that far from getting us down, we will use them positively, to improve life. Now, if we are going to use disappointments to make us stronger and better people, then we need a lot of them. So far from avoiding disappointments and wanting to hide from them, I contend that we should put ourselves in as many positions of potential disappointment, as we possibly can!

Run for every office; take part in all the competitions you can find; buy as many raffle tickets as you can afford, and aim for the sky in everything you do. That way you will spend a lot of your life being disappointed. But, as you experience the disappointments and you deal with them properly, you will grow and become stronger. You will then aim even higher and just by default, you will achieve so much more. Simply because you were disappointed!

Accordingly, how should we actually deal with disappointment? The first step is to know there are going to be lots of them. By acknowledging them up front, they will never take you by surprise. The next step is never to become a victim of the disappointment. Never, ever say, “Why me?” I have a friend who is a fantastically decent, lovely, law-abiding person and she got breast cancer. I said to her, didn’t you want to scream and ask God, “Why me?” Surprised, she looked at me and said, “No, I am not a victim. Why not me?”

The ability to believe that you haven’t been chosen to enjoy bad luck, (in her case – a possible death sentence), is fundamental to dealing with disappointment. If we reduce the whole philosophy to its basics, “Stuff happens”. Why, I’m not here to answer. But given that it does, the secret to dealing with disappointment is deceptively simple; it’s not what happens to you, but how you deal with what happens to you! Thank you”.

I gave this to my son, who was delighted at my new found enthusiasm for doing his homework. He didn’t have time that evening to read it.
“I’ll do the preparation at school,” he said, “I have a free lesson.”

That afternoon he phoned.
“Thanks dad,” he said, “I now know why you did my speech for me. It got an A from my teacher”, he paused, “and it gets an A plus from me. I’m just disappointed you won’t be continuing to do my work for me…” there was a moment’s silence, and then he laughed, “but don’t worry I’m dealing with it.”