Journeying Through Disappointment
Disappointment: the difference between what we expect and what we get. Events, circumstances and people disappoint us and we disappoint ourselves. To move from disappointment to contentment, we have to process our emotions and surrender our expectations.
This Mother’s Day, my wife Kari was supposed to be entering her third trimester. We miscarried that baby last November though – our sixth loss after delivering twin boys five years ago. A new type of grief descended on us as we acknowledged our dreams of a big family were over. Kari walked to the creek near our house and lay on her back crying. As she looked up at the trees, six birds flew above her head – one for each child we had lost. It’s hard to know how to respond when a baby and a dream dies inside your wife. And throughout the journey, I haven’t responded well. The miscarriages have been an inconvenient and abstract concept to me that I can’t “fix”. So I’ve kept a distance, which has been a further disappointment. Recently, though, I’ve understood my failure to show up for this pain. And this month I spent several hours at Bead Monkey quietly stringing a necklace for Kari with six strands and six bird charms. It’s Mother’s Day and I’m entering into the disappointment.
Looking back, a few catalysts have contributed to this improved approach to disappointment.
1. Relationships create self-awareness. One of the hardest, most valuable and least expected results of marriage (for me and probably anyone) has been the inability to hide from our shadows. Doing life with Kari means that she can see me at my best and my worst. She sees my impatience, selfishness and avoidance. She has earned the right to tell me when she sees it and, while it’s hard, it makes me more self-aware. Like the Proverb says, “As Iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.”
2. Supporters help us process. I meet weekly with a group of guys that does hard work together – we process our emotions openly. Fear, excitement, worry, shame, anger, jealousy, apathy and joy. We just listen, ask questions, make observations and encourage. The value of this group was recently affirmed through research on how successful leaders grow through challenge and disappointment. One key discovery of this research was that successful leaders surround themselves with informal mentors – trusted relationships that sparingly give advice and generously create space to process life.
3. Surrendering brings peace. We think we deserve so much. We expect health, safety and comfort. We expect short lines, good customer service, loyal teammates and fast internet connections. And we assume that we should get to enjoy benefits that most people around us receive – to fall in love, have a family, have a decent job, etc. When Kari and I were married, our minister said to us that a big challenge we’d face in our relationship is thinking, “What about me? What about what I expect in life?” He encouraged us to accept that life isn’t about us. Happiness comes from surrendering our expectations and accepting what life brings us.
Where have you had the biggest gaps between what you expected and what you got in life? How have you dealt with it? How can you improve your response?