How do you feel about disappointing others? How about being disappointed yourself? I’ve recently noticed how much of my conscious and unconscious attention is focused on not disappointing others, while at the same time protecting myself against being disappointed.
As I’ve been looking at this more deeply, I’m amazed by how much stress, fear and worry I experience in my attempts to avoid the disappointment of those around me — family, friends, clients and others. At the same time, I can see that much of this comes from my own deeper fear of being disappointed and let down. The irony, of course, is that no matter how hard I try to avoid disappointing others or being disappointed myself, it happens anyway.
By actively avoiding disappointment (of or by others), we set ourselves up for failure and pain. And, as I’ve seen recently, this makes it very difficult, if not impossible, to speak our truth, be ourselves and live with a real sense of authenticity and peace.
What if we embraced disappointment instead of avoiding it? It’s inevitable that we will disappoint people, especially when we live our lives in a bold, authentic and passionate way. Speaking up, going for the things that are important to us and taking care of ourselves are all things that at times won’t align with others, and in some cases may even upset them. It is possible for us, however, to be mindful, empathetic and aware of others, and still be true to ourselves — these things don’t have to be mutually exclusive.
Asking for what we want, counting on others and trusting people — all of which are essential for healthy, fulfilling and real relationships — do make us vulnerable to being disappointed and even hurt by the people in our lives. So what! We end up getting more hurt and disappointed in the long run by withholding our desires and expectations. We might as well live out loud and be honest about how we feel, what we want and what’s important to us.
As Dr. Seuss so brilliantly said, “Be who you are and say what you feel because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.”
Disappointment, as uncomfortable and even painful as it can be for me and many of us, is essential and important on our journey of growth, self-discovery, authenticity and fulfillment. Making peace with disappointing others allows us to release our erroneous demands for perfection. Letting go of our fear of being disappointed by other people gives us the ability to take more risks and ask for what we truly want.
When we’re able to embrace disappointment, we create a sense of liberation and space that frees us up to be who we truly are and let go of our attachment with other people’s opinions. This is not always easy, but is so powerful and can be transformational.
Here are a few things you can consider and do to expand your capacity to embrace disappointment in your own life:
1) Take inventory. Take an honest look at some of the most important relationships and activities in your life. How many of your actions, thoughts, conversations and more (or lack thereof) have to do with your avoidance of disappointing others or being disappointed? Also, take a look at your relationship to disappointment in general — how do you feel about it?
2) Practice saying “no.” This is a great practice, especially for those of us “people pleasers” who find ourselves saying “yes” to stuff we don’t really want to do. While there is great value in being someone who is willing to say “yes” in life, there is also power in owning our “no” as well. See if you can practice saying “no” to people, even if it’s scary or uncomfortable. Be real and vulnerable about it — with yourself and others. And, see if you can expand your capacity to decline requests of things you don’t want to do, remove things from your plate or schedule that don’t serve or inspire you, and make peace with yourself about it. As author and coach Cheryl Richardson says, “If it’s not an absolute ‘yes,’ it’s a ‘no.'”
3) Expand and express your desires. Make a list (mental or written) of some of the most important and vulnerable desires you currently have — the things you really want, but maybe have been afraid to admit (due to a fear of being disappointed). Many of us, myself included, don’t ask for things, go for things or express things unless we’re pretty sure we can make them happen, get them, or be sure people will respond to them in a positive way. While this makes sense, it’s also quite limiting. When you allow yourself to tap into and express your authentic desires, even if what you want doesn’t seem “possible” at the moment, you give yourself the freedom to ask, dream and create. One of my favorite sayings is, “The answer’s always ‘no’ if you don’t ask.” Start asking!
As you delve into this, be kind with yourself. This is a big one for me and so many people I know and work with. We all want to be loved, valued and appreciated in our lives. And most of us have had painful experiences of disappointment in the past, which have impacted us in a deep way. However, if we can alter our relationship to disappointment — we can transform our lives and our relationships in a profound way!