One of my favorite lines from The Princess Bride, is Westley’s classic jab at Inigo Montoya, “Get used to disappointment.” It’s one of those lines that feels good to say, but not to hear. Most of us would rather be the suave, ok snarky, character who delivers that gem than the one to whom it’s addressed.
But at some point, all of us will suffer the heartburn of frustration. A sure promotion will go to a lesser deserving and / or younger coworker. The presentation software on your thumb drive will be a different version than the one on the computer at the regional office. Your favorite team will blow a 25 point lead and lose the Super Bowl.
How will you handle it? I guess that’s a loaded question. Your ability to manage disappointment probably depends on the situation and the level of the letdown. But regardless of its severity, a sure sign of unhealthiness is to respond to disappointment with one of these two extremes:
Some Guys Really Do Get Used to Disappointment (see Charlie Brown or a Vanderbilt fan)
Don’t be this guy, the everyman embodiment of learned helplessness. Living with a resigned, here we go again, defeated disposition is unhealthy. He shows up to work every day, clocks in, opens his toolbox or logs in to his computer, but he’s given up. His consistent inability to address disappointment has made made him feel powerless to affect change in himself or the system at large so he just disengages and never fights to overcome it. He hasn’t just accepted disappointment as part of life, he’s accepted it as his lot in life.
Some Guys Become Hypersensitive to Disappointment (see John McEnroe or Tony Stuart)
Don’t be this guy, either, a tortured soul who’s never accepted the fact that things actually go wrong. Umpires miss calls. Engines fail. The prize in the cereal box is never as cool as it looks on the picture. Instead of developing a resigned disposition like his lovable loser counterpart, this guy becomes a neurotic and abrasive curmudgeon no one wants to be around. Reactionary with little self awareness, he allows any slight — rain, a power outage, a change in meeting time, eleven nuggets in the twelve pack — to ruin his day (and in turn, everyone around him). It’s hard to know when something really disappoints him because everything disappoints him.
But there’s another option:
Some Guys See Disappointment as an Unwelcomed, but not Unexpected Part of the Process (see Randy Pausch, Louis Zamperini, Jim Abbott, or anyone you know who farms)
Strive to be this guy. He’s not immobilized by disappointment, or obsessed with it. He realizes that we live in a fallen world and things don’t always turn out the way he hoped. He knows that even though he can reduce its likelihood, at some point, disappointment is going to happen. But it doesn’t make him adversarial. It does’t keep him from engaging. He refuses to let setbacks deter him from doing the right thing or working to affect change. He sees sabotage for what it is and recognizes the reality of resistance. He exhibits self control, deep confidence in the process, and remarkable resilience.
The next time you experience disappointment, consider this:
Maybe disappointment is teaching you – What can you learn from this situation? Is your disappointment a catalyst for redirection or change? Maybe you’ve become a bit entitled or ungrateful. What is this season saying about your heart? Is it revealing misplaced priorities or affections? Sometimes disappointments are indicators of the fears or idols lodged deep in our hearts that color the lenses through which we see the world.
Maybe disappointment is testing you – Resistance is real. How bad do you want this? Are you willing to do what it takes to complete the task? Maybe the opposition or sabotage your experiencing is confirmation that you’re on the right track. Every worthwhile endeavor has an Organic Chemistry component — a seemingly insurmountable obstacle that weeds out the wannabes. Don’t be surprised. Double down your efforts and keep working.
Maybe disappointment is training you – There’s a great deal of truth the the old cliched idiom: no pain, no gain. It’s okay to ache. It’s okay to be frustrated. It’s okay to feel as if the world is against you. What’s not okay is to give up. You’ll be much more appreciative of the end result and better equipped for the future if you work through the difficulty. I love the story of man who visited a monastery for a personal retreat. A monk meets him at the gate, shows him around the grounds, and informs him of the daily schedule The brief orientation ends with the monk’s final recommendation: “If you need anything, let us know and we’ll teach you how to live without it.”
Early in his book on the life of the prophet, Jeremiah, Eugene Peterson fleshes out what God might have been saying to His discouraged follower. May we heed these words of challenge, as well:
Life is difficult Jeremiah. Are you going to quit at the first wave of opposition? Are you going to retreat when you find that there is more to life than finding three meals a day and a dry place to sleep at night? Are you going to run home the minute you find that the mass of men and women are more interested in keeping their feet warm than in living at risk to the glory of God? Are you going to live cautiously or courageously? I called you to live at your best, to pursue righteousness, to sustain a drive toward excellence. It is easier, I know, to be neurotic. It is easier to be parasitic. It is easier to relax in the embracing arms of The Average. Easier, but not better. Easier, but not more significant. Easier, but not more fulfilling. I called you to live a life of purpose far beyond what you think yourself capable of living and promised you adequate strength to fulfill your destiny. Now at the first sign of difficulty you are ready to quit. If you are fatigued by this run-of-the-mill crowd of apathetic mediocrities, what will you do when the real race starts, the race with the swift and determined horses of excellence? What is it you really want, Jeremiah? Do you want to shuffle along with the crowd, or run with the horses? from Run with the Horses, by Eugene Peterson (pp. 21 – 22)