Friday, May 25, 2007


You know the feeling. When you have longed for something, yearned for something, and then you find out that you don’t get to have it. It is like a kick in the stomach. Doubled over. Clutching your sides. Gasping for air. Well, that is the full-blown version. And then there are smaller versions. The little thing you hoped for or wanted, and again, it doesn’t happen. Same responses, watered down.

Here is the thing I am learning about disappointment and me. I can’t be with it. I do all sorts of things to avoid the feeling. And I didn’t even know I was doing that. I just tried not to want or hope or dream. Tried not to get too excited about possibilities. Even made a point to not throw my hat in the ring for different possibilities, so as to avoid the potential pain of not getting it once I became invested. That’s a lot of work. For something you don’t even know you are avoiding. And there is a high cost. This not dreaming, and not hoping, and then playing small so that I don’t hurt, don’t get egg on my face, and don’t feel “not good enough”. Because that is some of what is behind it. The fear of the public humiliation when you go after a job, or tell your friends you are in love and think you have found “the one”, or audition for a role in a play and then… god forbid… it doesn’t pan out. And everyone knows it. And there is a kind of pity in their “I’m so sorry to hear that you didn’t get the job/man/part.” So it isn’t just disappointment that is at play here, it is often followed up by a chaser of shame and inadequacy.

And it can happen for big and small things. Lost friendships and discovering that your friends were not who you thought they were. Planning to buy a great pair of shoes once they go on sale only to find out that once they are on sale your size is sold out. Miscarriage of a long awaited, deeply wanted baby. A book being out of stock. Being turned down by a publisher. Getting a lower grade on an assignment than you expected. A cancelled movie date with a friend when you really, really needed company. Picking the wrong pedicure nail polish. A failed relationship (even, or maybe especially, when it is in it’s infancy, I think back to KA or BVW with a sort of nostalgic ache, but in truth, with a cooler head, how appropriate were those choices for me, really?). Not getting into the school of your choice. So many chances (and options) disappointment, so little time.

I have a long history of avoiding disappointments. In fact, I suspect it runs in my family, and I sort of inherited or absorbed it. There was lots of effort put into “making things better”, and when that didn’t work, minimizing how much we wanted it in the first place. Doesn’t leave the world being a very safe place to dream. And yet, not dreaming, and not getting excited about possibilities is one of the things that can lead me to a feeling of hopelessness and meaninglessness. And frankly those are much more damaging feelings for me than disappointment.

It is also worth saying that if my gas tank is low, so to speak, then I have lower resiliency and lower ability to bounce back when I get disappointing news. Funny thing is that that low resiliency comes when I have fewer things on the go, less irons in the fire, less exciting possibilities to occupy my attention and dream space. And yet each one of those exciting possibilities could then lay me low if and when it does not come to fruition. What is a person to do? And what is the ratio of possibilities to successes? I mean do I need to make sure there are always 10 fishing lines out there to get one landed fish? Or is it more like 3 to 1? And do they all have to be of equal magnitude and excitement quotient? Because who has that kind of energy? You see I have never thought about these things before, because I have never had to look at this, with my head so firmly planted in the sand about what this icky feeling really was about?

And what brought on this new discovery/exploration/curiosity, you ask? Two things. Just this last weekend when I was leading a workshop in NYC a participant arrived 4 hours late for the workshop (she thought Friday was a half day, not a full day). As a result of her lateness she had missed some key components of the workshop and we had to tell her that she couldn’t complete the workshop this weekend. Which also means she can’t take the next 3 in the series here in the city with her new coaching friends (unless she pulled some fancy footwork and went to another city and took this one workshop there and then came back to NYC for the rest). She was beyond disappointed, she was devastated. And in the most human and endearing way, she wept immediately and openly about her loss (I suspect that that sudden and honest display had a lot to do with her getting surprised by the news, being sidelined seems to intensify the feeling, or perhaps we can’t cover the disappointment over, so as to appear together and sensible, like we might with a relationship breakup that spans over a few months or years). So with that as a backdrop I got the news today that a documentary that I had hoped to be featured in, called DREAM, for which the director and talent scout were totally excited about using me, are not permitted to because I am not American. So heart breaking. And so ridiculous. And so annoying. But there is nothing to be done. So I pick myself up and dust myself off and carry on. And get to learn about this thing call disappointment, which I have been merrily ignoring, up until now.

So what am I learning? And what are different ways to be with disappointment now that I am aware of it? Well, since it seems to be a version of grief, I guess the only way out is through. But without judging the grief. Without calling it self-pity. And just letting it take it’s own sweet time. Now if I need a quicker fix (although, as already established, that is dangerous territory for me) and if my resiliency is low then throwing some more irons in the fire, some more lines in the water could be a good idea. Getting out there and getting active, and getting more dreams in motion is bound to move my energy and maybe even the world, in the right direction (hell, at this stage, I will take any direction, and course correct once I have some momentum). Another angle to look from? If every icky feeling is here to tell us something, what is this one telling me? I guess that I am very much alive and that I have never (and never will) stopped dreaming, stopped wanting, and stopped being willing to pursuing my passions with all my heart. So here’s to dreams, mine and others, and even the documentary. May yours come true, or if not may you at least enjoy the process of chasing them.


At 8:40 AM PDT, Blogger Signy said...

Oooh, new discovery. This disappointment, it feeds itself like a cancer. Building up it's case that life is terrible and the world a bad place to be. Argh.

So when does "having my feelings" turn into something dangerous like self pity or self victimization? The clue seems to be when I start generalizing "it is all bad, it will never get better, this is all there is", and when my locus of attention and my locus of control aren't coordinated.

Hmmm, time to put on some rockin' music and dance around the place until I have enough momentum to jump start myself. Go.

At 9:21 PM PDT, Blogger Simon said...

Hmmm, I've experienced a bit of disappointment recently. While I was looking out at the stars tonight I had a thought that is warming. The disappointment, the being low, is like clouds on a starry night. Every so often they pass over and obsure my view of a beaufiful, bright star. However, I realized the star is still there and the light is burning as bright as ever. It made being with the clouds a litte easier.

At 9:41 AM PDT, Blogger signy.wilson said...

Nice different perspective, Simon, thank you.


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