Disappointment = Expectations - Reality.
I’ll never forget the disappointment I felt one Christmas when I didn’t get the gift at the top of my Santa list. Disappointment feels like slowly falling down a cliff—not fast enough to scare you, but precariously enough, so you know you don’t have your footing. And, when you’re a kid, that fall can feel like it will last an eternity.
I was recently talking to an eighteen-year-old. She told me about how her high school softball season got canceled, which meant she didn’t get any college athletic scholarship offers. Her prom was canceled, too. And her much-anticipated commencement speech to her graduating class was carried on a faulty Zoom line. On top of all that, she was supposed to be a bridesmaid at her sister’s wedding, which also got postponed indefinitely. She said she expected to brush herself off and get excited for her journey across the country to college this summer only to find out that her freshman fall will be happening via video. Online private college for $70k per year with no athletic scholarship! “That’s a fall that can feel like it will last an eternity.” Generation Z doesn’t adequately describe this group of young people. How about the Disappointed Generation?
Of course, young people aren’t the only ones feeling disappointed these days. In fact, after anxiety and anger, disappointment is the most common negative emotion we feel. Throw in a pandemic, and you have a recipe for disappointment Armageddon.
Ultimately, you have two choices when faced with disappointment: lowering your expectations or increasing your reality. In pandemic times, I’m not about to preach the latter. Although, if you’re wise and focused on your sphere of influence, you know that you can alter your reality in smart and savvy ways.
First, ask yourself, “Am I frustrated or disappointed?” When you are disappointed, it means that all is lost, and the fight has ended. On the other hand, frustration is the feeling we have when we believe we can still influence the environment. If you are frustrated (and not disappointed), use this energy to alter your reality.
So, math whiz, the only variable left in this equation is expectation. Many of us believe expectation is what fueled our ambition and success in the first place, so to starve ourselves of that fuel feels like the first step toward “learned helplessness” (which is an early indicator of emotional depression). So, we thrash away, striving to increase reality, fueled by frustration.
But I don’t know anyone on earth with the name Expectation, but I know some great people named Hope. Hope, Arkansas, was also President Bill Clinton’s hometown. And President Obama’s book, “The Audacity of Hope,” launched his Presidential run. Jesse Jackson almost won the Democratic Presidential nod in 1988 based upon his preaching “Keep Hope Alive.”
To tame your disappointment, you need to distinguish between Expectation and Hope. Here’s your cheat sheet:
My favorite leadership quote, while CEO of Joie de Vivre Hospitality, was, “Disappointment is the natural result of badly-managed expectations.” Beware that 2020 could be the Year of Living Disappointedly if you don’t become smarter about your emotional math.
If you want to see more of my Emotional Equations, you can refer to this past Wisdom Well blog.