Disappointment and Expectations

November 29th, 2013

The world in which we live tends to be a relatively disappointing place. Don’t get me wrong, there’s a lot of good, fun, and cool things out there too, but daily we face disappointments and some people handle it much better than others. I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately.

Disappointment, at it’s core, is dissatisfaction that your expectations were not met, or perhaps, were not met in the way you desired. (The way you expected your expectations to be met. Meta.)

Why do some people put so much stock in other people’s actions or reactions?

To rely on external factors for internal perception is not only a flawed concept, but potentially very disastrous. Yet is that not what it means to dream? To desire something outside the bounds of your control?

Recently I was pondering the difference between Goals and Dreams. They say goals are important, and I would agree. A goal is something you decide you want to achieve and you set out to do it, its an action, a task that needs to be accomplished or a result that needs to be reached. Most people probably have several goals, even if they don’t think about it in conscious terms, they have things they’d like to do and ways that they expect their life to turn out. Whether they are actively working towards them or not is mostly irrelevant. Though, if they are not actively working towards a goal, they can’t really be disappointed if it’s not met.

Dreams on the other hand are things that you would like to accomplish or have happen, but don’t necessarily have control over. I can dream about having sunny weather next Friday for my party, but it’s silly to say that it’s my goal. There’s literally nothing I can do about it one way or the other.

In more practical terms, very little is actually free from external influences. Getting the job you want is heavily reliant upon the people who will interview and hire you. Winning a game is partially dependent upon an opponent’s skill, not just your own skill. And let’s not forget to mention unrequited love.

Are these goals or dreams?

Maybe my definition is a distinction without a difference, but it’s important to recognize the boundary of control.

I recently watched The Great Gatsby, and despite its being a rather odd film, I found Gatsby’s character to be fascinatingly relevant to things that have been on my mind. If you need a recap on the movie (or haven’t seen it) [spoiler alert] Gatsby has a single obsession in life and everything he has done has been done for a single purpose, a single woman, who does not (entirely) share his vision of the future. He devotes everything he has and everything he is into making something that cannot be. His love is transformed into depraved selfishness as he refuses to let go of the past.

Coping with rejection and disappointment is a skill they don’t teach in school. (This is true on a number of different levels, but right now I’m just focusing on the lack of “Unmet Expectations 101” courses.) So how do you learn to deal with disappointment? Practice? (“I’m practicing being disappointed.”)

It takes more than just practice, it takes a mindset, a proper perspective on life.

A friend recently lent me a copy of Me, Myself, & Bob by Phil Visher. (A signed copy, so I guess I’m pretty trustworthy.) Throughout the book Visher describes the company he created, the whole time making it sound like a train barreling towards the end of an unfinished line. By the time things come crashing down around him, you’re not so much surprised that it happened as you are that it survived as long as it did.

The following quote might not deal the same impact without 234 pages of exposition that lead up to it, but the message stopped me cold on the page. [Spoiler alert.]

“When you have a dream, and God appears in your dream, and then it goes away, maybe he wants to see what’s more important, him or the dream. And once he knows that, maybe you get your dream back. And maybe you don’t, but even if you don’t, you still have God.”

In the end, the things we want are mostly inconsequential.

In the end… the things we want… are mostly inconsequential. (Cue Lincoln Park, c. 2001)

That’s a hard thing to say. It’s even harder to fully believe.

Our personal happiness is not suppose to be the end result. There are bigger and more important things than how we are feeling at any given point in time.

I still hold that Dracula is one of the best love stories of all time, because the selfless love displayed by the characters runs deep. Near the beginning of the book [spoiler alert] Lucy is approached by three different suiters, all charming young men. She graciously declines two of them but even after rejection they still love her. Not in a “I’m going to win her back” or “I’m still obsessed with her” sort of way, but in the deepest bonds of friendship and selflessness where they are willing to sacrifice their own blood in order to help keep her alive.

That is how I want to be. My motives may not always be as pure or perfect as they should be, but I want to follow their example, to be selfless, even if things don’t go my way.

And this is where everything gets pulled together. It’s not easy, it’s not intuitive, it might sound a little cheesy, it may not even sound terribly helpful, but it’s true.

You can only control you. You control how you act, you control how you react. Internally, you have control. You choose to be disappointed or not. Knowing this, you’re goals should be about you, about the way you want to be and the things you want to try. (Try, not necessarily do.)1

Goals need to be internalized. They need to be properly viewed so they are not setups for failure. Uncontrollable variables need to be recognized and understood. This isn’t a change that happens overnight. This isn’t necessarily a change that just happens. It’s something that needs to be worked at, an ongoing project. Even when you are there, you need to work to stay there. It’s not a once and done deal. Like patience, you don’t just “get it” you are always working to “be it.”

Sometimes this isn’t really what you want to hear. “It’s easy for you to say,” you think as you roll your eyes and close your browser tab.

And it is easy for me to say, but it’s still difficult for me to do.

So, consider this a friendly reminder. Consider this encouragement. Don’t let yourself be defined by external variables you don’t control. When your hopes are dashed or your dreams are shattered, take a deep breath, take moment to reflect, and then, take on the world again.

1. Not everyone is able to bend the world to their will. I don’t mean to discredit the power of positive thinking, but in the context of this article, it’s important to have properly setup expectations in order to prevent fallout if things don’t work out. Context is important here.