Only disappointment

It is only disappointment. Alas, it dessicates the life in your spirit. If you let it, that is.

Thankfully, like many frustrating things, disappointment comes with a choice. You either let it devour you, or force it to lift you up on its shoulder and let you climb on to the other side of the seemingly insurmountable wall. Easy? Hardly.

Some studies show that optimists are less prepared for the emotional plummeting a disappointment causes. An optimist is so busy looking at the bright side that when it becomes clear that clouds are persistent and there isn’t a light in sight, they pale. It’s called the ‘disappointment effect’, apparently. And it is said to compromise the victim’s immune system. How very disheartening. Especially for an optimist.

What about a pessimist, then? I haven’t heard of any related studies, but I’ll wager the disappointment effect in this case just might turn out to be the last ever effect on the poor soul.

So, wouldn’t you say that disappointment needs to be culled when it’s letting you cull it? If not, well, then you end up either being susceptible to the smallest of discomforts, or become prone to an untimely withering of heart over and over again. 

Disappointments will happen. Big ones, small ones. What I’d like to do with them is to manage one kind of disappointment at a time in way that the same thing doesn’t wind me again. Sometimes I manage it, sometimes I don’t. The trick, I am learning, is to keep at it.

War against it, I think. Fight with myself. Let disappointment be my launchpad. Sometimes, the toughest wars are against oneself. And one of the most challenging of the lot is that which is against frustration or anger stemming from stymied expectations. It is the most challenging, I’ve realised, because the anger and frustration either make you completely inert, or guide you towards a path you don’t really want to take.

I attended school with girls and boys who were naturally comfortable on stage. While they were friends, they were also cruel reminders of what I couldn’t do. Though I could easily wet my palms and other things with various nervous secretions, I didn’t. That was one saving grace, thankfully. But I did manage to make a fool of myself every time I went on stage. And came back with a disappointed ego every single time. Except once.

I’d practiced for weeks for a poetry recitation competition. The poem I’d chosen was Nancy Hanks by Rosemary and Stephen Vincent Benét. The pride I felt when I lasted through the entire poem without fumbling, and didn’t have to leave the stage defeated is something that stays with me after all these years. I might have won an award. I do not remember whether I did, because the award I really wanted is permanent in my heart.

Years later, when I became a teacher and was required to speak to children on some school assembly days, I went back to becoming the jittery, helpless fool with one thing to prop me up — Nancy Hanks The Poem. Its memory was enough to help me stand on stage, alone. My first assembly talk was an excerpt from Anne Frank’s diary — a collection of diary entries that has and continues to touch me deep down. Perhaps that is why I got all watery-throated that day? It was more than a decade ago, I don’t really remember why it happened. But what I do remember was that I got down from the dais disappointed.

But, amazingly, the memory of Nancy Hanks was more persistent, and it helped me get on the stage again, and again. Until I reached a day when I began enjoying being there — and having a voice.

Letting disappointment get the better of you is like permitting the wind to blind you with your hair slapping your own face when all you want to do is see that road ahead. While disappointing stage performances might not count as the best example of frustrating disappointments for most of us, they are an effective means to make a person feel lesser, somehow. And hence make for a good example of how people allow small failures to become big boulders in their paths.

There are, however, more life-altering disappointments. Like the knowledge that your loved one is letting you down. Or that you have been letting your loved one down instead, or worse — in return. Or that the only blockade in your path to your dreams is your own self. What about those? How do you battle against yourself to shoo those away? I do not know. Yet.

I do know, however, that the last thing I’d want is to allow the wind to throw my own hair against my face without my permission. Would you?

This post was one of the last ones in my previous blog. While some read it there and commented, I think many of you couldn’t. So, I am republishing it.

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21 thoughts on “Only disappointment”

  1. I marveled at what a wonderful job a colleague was doing with her students. On one occasion her students were performing for a major audience. As I was sitting with my principal, I asked out loud, “Why isn’t she nervous?” How does she do it?” My wise principal simply answered, “she prepares every day.” If the young teacher was nervous or not, I do not know, but I do know it was evident to my principal that she prepared every day in order to meet the extraordinary day.

    1. “prepare(d) every day in order to meet the extraordinary day” is what I believe in, too, Georgette. Sometimes, my efforts seem to go unnoticed even by myself, and I feel frustrated. But, the slow learner that I am, I have to give months, maybe years to get to a point where I can say, “Yeah, I got it right.”

      Sadly, stage performances don’t give that leeway, which is why I have great respect for those who manage to do it right and get it done right in a short time. Such patience! Such commitment! Thank you for telling me about this teacher.

  2. Yes, we optimists can be blindsided, blown away and buffaloed. Priya, it’s good to know someone in the world understands that some disappointments shove us into hell!

    The length of time we stay in our hell is up to us!

    May I learn to meet disappointment with much more grace than I display at times!

    1. Amen to that, Amy. And I wish the same for myself.

      I wonder, though, the length of time we stay in hell — however long or short — can be more decisive of our discomfort than the intensity of our resignation when we’re there.

  3. Hi,
    I find talking in front of a lot of people is very nerve racking, thank goodness I have only had to do this twice, once at work, and once at a birthday party, both times I was a nervous wreck. 🙂

    1. Oh Mags, the agony of it! But you survived it well, I am sure. It is amazing to see that the fear of stage and the fear of spiders lead the world’s phobias. I wonder if there’s a connection…

  4. Like Ceciliag, I am an optimist. And, I’ve allowed my optimistic-self to become disappointed. I find moments when I think I am going to climb above it all and find my optimism again, but something else seems to happen that knocks me back down. My writing is taking the hit – I’m continuing to fight against it, and I hope the battle will be won soon. Thank you for this, Priya.

  5. I’m an optimist, too. But it’s work to remain that way because people and obstacles get in the way. It sometimes feels like I’m a glass of water – the pessimist drip a tiny drop of food coloring in it and the color slowly seeps through and almost completely mixes with the water. And that’s it – and it takes so much energy to avoid letting the color seep into oneself. Sometimes the best thing I can do is go home and hug my dogs!

    1. You have just about the perfect antidote available, Jean. How very lucky you are!

      I feel the drain, too. And the dogs help me as well. They never disappoint, do they? And take their disappointments with such wisdom…

  6. I love this honest story. I too am an optimist – and have worked most of my adult life in balancing the ‘good’ with the ‘bad.’
    As for your questions, I try and affect what I can though my attitude and actions, but also realize there is a Mystery governing the Universe with wisdom I cannot know. At almost sixty, I can tell you that life has brought me more than a fair share of disappointments. But most of them have been blessings in disguise. In retrospect!

    1. In retrospect is the key factor, is it not, Bela? When you are immersed in a situation, things seem so very overwhelming.

      By the way, balancing ‘good’ with ‘bad’ is probably as taxing as living with disappointments, if not more. It’s a great achievement, I’d say!

  7. I think you hit on a truth early on with this: “…An optimist is so busy looking at the bright side that when it becomes clear that clouds are persistent and there isn’t a light in sight, they pale.” What’s worse is when they can’t — or won’t — see the clouds at all. Life has plenty of ups and downs, as you know better than most. One challenge (for some of us) is to really enjoy the high points. Another is to feel the pain when we’re down and allow that experience to help us get stronger. You did that with the poem you recited. And you’ve been doing it again with this blog.

    By the way, I never got an email about this post. I’m glad I didn’t miss it completely.

    1. I’m also glad you didn’t miss it completely. It’s strange, however, how the notification didn’t reach you from my previous blog either. WordPress must be doing crazy things to make these crazy results happening. No?

      Your compliments bowl me over, Charles.

  8. Thanks for reposting this as I had, indeed, missed it, along with a whole slew of your recent posts, I’m afraid. I love your metaphor of the wind slapping your hair against your face. I am a lousy public speaker and I will confess that I have allowed my repeated failures to hamper me from even engaging in endeavors that might require me to approach a podium. So, my hair has been beating me up!

    Normally, though, I consider myself to be…well, it’s complicated. I am a pessimist in that I evaluate all that could go wrong. But this prepares me for the worst so that even two steps above the worst outcome feels like a victory. I am rarely disappointed because I’ve prepared for the worst.

    1. I like that you have your defence mechanism in the right place and you know just how it helps you. That’s in itself is such a commendable achievement! Being disappointed can stymie the best of people. Once you have that out of your way, you can style your hair in a way that it doesn’t misbehave, no matter the kind of winds you encounter. No?

  9. I don’t know why I havent received email notices of your posts because I thought I’d signed up but I see I’m not the only one who missed them.

    I love that the memory of reciting the childhood poem – Nancy Hanks The Poem – helped you so many years later when you were a teacher.

    Thank you for reminding me that we learn as children is never wasted or forgotten.

    1. There are some blogs I used to follow, but lost the subscription all of a sudden, Rosie. WP is acting wonky these days. It’s been acting wonky for quite a long time, actually. But as long as we can get back to being in touch, it’s quite all right, no?

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