Disappointment is Not a Good Place to Live

The one thing I struggle with most in life is handling disappointment.  It can knock me off my feet, cause me to sink into a deep pit of pity, and paralyze me with sadness.  It’s like being twelve again.  Nothing, nothing causes me more pain than feeling disappointment.

This weekend I found out some plans we had been making  weren’t going to work out.  The plans were a very unexpected work-related surprise when we were first told about them two weeks ago.  They involved living and working for three months in San Francisco.

San Francisco is one of my favorite cities in the world.

We couldn’t believe our good luck.  I was so happy.  We started planning and discussing things we would do in our free time.  I would get to see my son, who works one hour outside the city, and we could even drive up to see my daughter in Portland.  We could visit Yosemite and Redwoods National Parks, and I was looking forward to running some serious hills and trails in much cooler temperatures than I’m used to.

Then I caught myself.  Wait a minute, this is too good to be true.  I told M I didn’t want to talk about it anymore until we knew for sure that it was going to happen.  He assured me it was going to happen, in one form or another, and that I would go with him.  I told him I was going to be so disappointed if it didn’t work out.  Then I heard the small, quiet voice in my head whisper: It’s not going to happen.

I shushed the voice.  I was optimistic, and I believed.

A week later we were told they might actually only need M for a month, starting either in the middle or end of October.  He had a week of vacation between contracts, and since we would be driving out west anyway, he decided to make it a staycation and do things around the house.  I had wanted to go camping, but was more than happy to stay home since San Francisco was coming up.

Except for a marathon in Death Valley in February, I haven’t been on vacation in over a year, and haven’t had a long road trip in over two years.  I live for long road trips.

On Thursday the dream turned to disappointment.  M checked his email and discovered he would be flying to San Francisco on Monday and returning Thursday night, then doing the same thing the following week.


The tickets were purchased and I wasn’t going.  Nothing could justify the cost to fly me out for such a short time.  End of the San Francisco story in my head.

I cried.  I froze.  I went comatose.  I went silent.  I didn’t want to hear another word about San Francisco, I didn’t want to think about it, I didn’t want to believe it.

I was so disappointed.

I stayed that way for three days, deflecting all of M’s attempts at cheerfulness and normalcy.  I had let my guard down, I expected too much, and it turned around and bit me.  Stupid, stupid me.

And that’s been pretty much the pattern all my life.  I’m sure my overreaction to disappointment goes way back to something I no longer remember, but I can’t shake it. Over and over again, disappointment just paralyzes me.

Disappointment and expectation go hand in hand. The trick, I think, is to live without expectation.  That’s a tough one for me.  There are days I actively attempt to live without expectations, to accept whatever comes my way with no desire of anything other than what is.  It never lasts more than a few hours before I unconsciously start expecting things again, but it’s a start.

Is it realistic to live without expectations?

It’s not just the disappointment of things not working out a certain way, it also extends to people.  I can also have high expectations of myself and others, and part of that comes from being a teacher for so long and always expecting the best a student could give me.  But who am I to decide what is “the best,”  especially now that I no longer teach?  And do I really have the right to expect anything from anyone else, and then judge whether or not it’s good enough?

Am I not merely setting myself up for disappointment anytime I expect something?  If I have an expectation, and don’t accept what doesn’t happen, then I will be disappointed. It happens every time, over and over.

Sounds like it’s time for a change.

Simply stated:  expectation + nonacceptance = disappointment.  And disappointment is not a good place to live.

April 2002

See also:  Glass Half Empty Kind of Person and Acceptance: Things Will Work Out . . . or They Won’t


  1. skippingstones

    I’m sorry that your plans fell through, but I’m glad it wasn’t something worse. When you commented on the Apollo quote, I was picturing a health issue or something – I guess my mind goes directly to the worst case scenario. I don’t know if that’s glass half full, or just mentally preparing yourself for the worst.

    When I read the first paragraph, I immediately thought about expectation. I truly believe that expectation plays a major role in how we process things, our emotional reactions, etc. And then as I read on, you said the same thing. I was going to tell you about the Query I did on Expectation, and I went back and read it myself, pretty interesting stuff. But then I also re-read the post you referenced on Acceptance (which is the one where I was afraid I was rude), and I already put the link to the Query in my comments there. I had also linked your Acceptance post on the Expectation Query. So, it’s like a big circle of comments and posts and queries.

    But I think that’s what life is like, just a bunch of big circles. We do, think, feel, react, behave in the same ways over and over and over. It’s very difficult to change our set patterns of behavior. It can be done, but it takes a lot of time and effort. The key, I think, it being aware of what we want to change and then figuring out what works better. I think that can be one of the hardest parts, though. We have to do a lot of trying and failing before we figure out what works better for us. And then the trying and failing to do that better thing commences. But there are quotes out the yazzoo from inventors who say the only way to success is through failure – that’s the only way you know what doesn’t work.

    You will figure this out. It may take time, but it’s something you want to change and you’re looking for a method to stop either the elevated expectations or the level of disappointment from being so devastating. This is not something I have to deal with, so I don’t have any advice or ideas. But I know you can do it…eventually. Don’t beat yourself up if it takes longer than you think it will. Because it certainly will.

    • Mind Margins

      Thanks so much for your kind words. They really help. And the fact that you thought my bad news might have something to do with a health issue certainly puts everything in perspective. It was just a trip. I’m fortunate that it wasn’t anything more serious.

      I think those of us who tend to be introspective can also be very analytical and oftentimes get lost in our thoughts. We tell ourselves these stories about situations and make them a thousand times worse than they are. I’m very good at brooding. It’s hard for me to let things go sometimes. But at least now I recognize what I need to work on and can go from there.

      This same issue of acceptance keeps coming up lately, so I guess I better pay attention!

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