When we are willing to do the work, remain flexible as to the means, and have unwavering belief in our ability to get it right—disappointment has no place to root. On the other hand, when our heart and mind are attached to a fixed outcome and timetable, disappointment digs deep and sprouts up like a nasty weed. Water those weeds with doubt, and soon we’ll have a field of despair where nothing positive can grow.
It all starts with those fixed pictures of expectation that we keep in our minds. It’s hard to avoid mental images of what jobs, marriage, appearance, home, behavior, friendship, fitness, or other physical indicators of success looks like. We see images all around us and then adopt the ones we want to emulate. In many ways this is a good thing. It’s called role-modeling or goal-setting. If someone has achieved it, then so can we. If we can visualize it, we can attain it. These are both very true statements. The problems arise when we become fixed as to how those manifestations will look in our own lives.
Each of us, no matter how similar in appearance or circumstance, is unique. Every condition surrounding our life at a particular moment is also unique, not only in comparison to other people but as compared to ourselves at any other given moment. So, how could our future possibly match a picture that we keep in our minds today? It couldn’t. Unfortunately, that does not stop us from trying.
A career in the entertainment industry has offered me a wealth of opportunities to explore expectation and disappointment. Jobs can last as briefly as a few hours and rarely more than a week. Those golden goose gigs that last months or even years, exist but are rare occurrences. A writer’s life is not much different. The average writer copes with hundreds (thousands?) of rejections before, during, and even after publication. The entertainment industry is not the place for a person who desires stability over creativity, and can be a hazardous industry for anyone prone towards disappointment. And what’s worse is that this tendency does not decline with success. I remember hearing Meryl Streep confide in an interview that she still worries that she’ll never work again.
Regardless of our career or lifestyle, it is impossible for me to fathom having goals without experiencing initial or at least mild disappointment. Like anger, joy, or any other emotion, I think it is part of the human condition. However, I do believe that we can determine how we experience these emotions, and the control we allow them to have on our lives. In the case of disappointment, it’s not a question of whether we feel it, but whether we allow it to take root.
To keep the soil as unfriendly as possible, avoid feeding it with fear. A common fear is that this endeavor was our last shot at finding a job, an apartment, a spouse, a promotion, a loan, a publisher, an agent, whatever! Our fear leads us to doubt our ability to go through the process again or to try some new approach. And what if it still doesn’t work? When we doubt our ability to get some semblance of what we want, or our ability to be happy in spite of not getting it, our fear takes control. To combat disappointment, avoid feeding the fear.
Another way to keep disappointment from taking root is to remain flexible. There are many ways to get from here to there, and There looks different for every person. It’s great to visualize but allow yourself to adjust those images along the way. With every passing moment, conditions change, information is gained, and options vanish and appear. Our goals and mental pictures need to adjust accordingly. To avoid attachment, remain fluid.
And lastly, we need to be willing to work. There is no substitute for diligent effort. Some people view effort as an unpleasant factor in life. Some even consider it to be the antithesis of enlightenment. I disagree. Effort can be a very positive, gratifying and enjoyable experience. With the proper perspective, diligent effort is a crucial element on the path to enlightenment and, I imagine, also a natural result. Of course, that’s just my supposition, but I think it’s an empowering perspective to have. To keep despair at bay, stay in motion and keep working.
When we are willing to do the work, remain flexible as to the means, and have unwavering belief in our ability to get it right—we can pass through that initial moment of disappointment and move on to the next course of action. That action might be to pursue a new approach, to change the goal, or to let go of the goal, entirely. Regardless of the action we choose to take, our confidence in our ability, our flexibility and our willingness to work will keep us in a positive frame of mind and chase away the disappointment.
Sometimes, we just have to keep reminding ourselves: Confidence. Flexibility. Effort.
If you found some value in this mindful musing, please share: A little empowerment goes a long way.