How do you face disappointment? When a relationship falls apart, or a friend lets you down, or something you were looking forward to (like getting pregnant or clinching the next promotion) doesn’t happen, how do you respond? I don’t handle it very well. My instinct is to run from the pain, to numb myself with distractions and to avoid that awful feeling at all cost. It’s too uncomfortable, unpleasant and painful for my liking. So I scroll through my Facebook feed for the tenth time in four minutes. I lose myself in a certain online game of matching coloured candies. I text my friends to see if anyone’s around to chat. I search for something, anything, to soothe the aching hole in my soul where my dream used to be. Then I come to my senses and I sit down to blog.
Last week we launched our second book with great hoopla and fanfare. For four months, we had laboured intensely over the piece. We wrote, edited, got feedback, re-wrote and re-edited. We worked hard on the cover, gathered a book launch team, and even filmed a trailer. We passed up movie nights for the sake of the project and it was finally ready for the world to see. We had high hopes for a warm reception of our work. In one sense, we did. Many friends congratulated us and some even shared our book with their friends. Hundreds of people watched our book trailer. Those who’d received copies as gifts from us all gave us positive reviews. But when it came down to it, by the end of the week we sold just over 30 copies.
Seeing the low number of book sales, we were tempted to think that our writing is so terrible that nobody wants to read our stuff. That we’d somehow failed. And that we might eventually have to move our family into a cardboard box. All of which are not true.
Still, the feeling of disappointment was real for both Tim and me. Although we went out for a nice dinner date to celebrate the completion of this project, we did so with a slight sense of grief. Tim tried to relieve the pain by taking Allie shopping (retail therapy being his numbing agent of choice.) When we shared our disappointment with some of our friends, they tried to help us feel better by reminding us that we needed to give it time, that people are busy, that our strategy might have been better, or that maybe our expectations were too high. We understood their reasoning and appreciated their explanations but we hadn’t been looking for consolation.
Because in the midst of it, what we realized was this: Disappointment was good for us.
You see, the night before our book launch, Tim and I had prayed that God would help us to receive with gratitude whatever was in store for us the next day. Had everything turned out amazing, we would have easily been thankful. But because things didn’t go “our way,” we had to really exercise our gratitude muscles. We had to ask ourselves, how do we continue being thankful in the midst of disappointment? We had to practice courage by saying, “I feel disappointed, but I’m still going to be grateful for…”
Being thankful wasn’t merely an exercise in positive thinking. It wasn’t trying to replace the negative feelings with happier ones. It was learning to engage the whole of our emotions; to acknowledge our sadness and also to remember the parts of us that remained hopeful. Brene Brown, in her book, “Daring Greatly,” (affiliate link) talks about wholehearted living which involves “learning how to lean into the discomfort of hard emotions.” It wasn’t an easy thing to do and it certainly wasn’t a pleasant experience to go through. But as we learned to sit with our disappointment, we were reminded that our worth was not attached to our performance or achievements. That who we are is not defined by what we do or how others receive us. And we were challenged to have courage to go “all in” once more with our next project instead of holding back a little in case we are disappointed again.
When I consider our experiences this past week and contrast the life-numbing vs. life-giving ways of facing disappointment, I’m actually thankful that our book launch wasn’t more “successful.” Because of it, we’ve learned how to be more fully alive.
What have you learned about facing disappointment?