To be free in life, we must be good disappointers. This doesn’t mean we must be “comfortable disappointers,” but we must be competent ones. Specifically, we must be willing to cultivate the willingness, a true capacity, to knowingly leave others feeling disappointed. We can have the biggest hearts in the world, be the greatest givers who ever lived, but if we’re incapable of disappointing others, we’re screwed. We’re owned. We’re hostages…to our inability (or unwillingness) to disappoint.
It’s fine to prefer to be pleasing, satisfying and gratifying than disappointing. That says nice things about us. It’s fine to live our lives with a general intention to be non-disappointing. But it’s not fine, it’s a terrible idea with terrible consequences, to make it our life’s mission not to disappoint. For all of us it’s best to realize, sooner than later, that two things in life (besides death and taxes) must be accepted, not fought: People will disappoint us regularly, and ordinarily we will disappoint others almost as regularly.
Why “ordinarily?” It’s possible to live our lives hypervigilant to avoid disappointing others—hypervigilant to appeasing others, strategizing 24/7 to be almost always, maybe even always, accommodating and satisfying. It’s possible to make it our life’s goal, our life’s mission, to be disappointing as rarely as possible, almost never. And perhaps, but at great cost, it’s possible to succeed in this endeavor, relatively speaking.
But it’s crucial to bear in mind the difference between living our lives mindful of others’ needs, interests and expectations of us (preferring on balance to be perceived as relatively satisfying), versus living our lives desperately afraid to disappoint, desperate not to disappoint. The former approach recognizes that we can’t live fulfilling lives constantly subordinating our needs to others’; it recognizes the impossibility of taking our needs and interests remotely seriously if the very notion of leaving others disappointed evokes self-mortification. The latter approach disconnects us from our personal needs and interests, requires that we relegate them to a secondary status, because to advocate for them on a serious level would sometimes require our leaving others feeling disappointed.
Therefore, when our mission, at almost all costs, is to spare others disappointment, we are bargaining, selling-out our personal freedom. The compulsion to please, accommodate, preserve the perception of ourselves as non-disappointing detaches us, as I suggest, from personal needs and interests that can only be advocated sometimes at the expense of leaving others frustrated and dissatisfied with us. If we ransom our personal needs and interests to avoid a blemished perception of ourselves as always accommodating, then we compromise ourselves badly, failing to balance effectively a respectful recognition and advocacy of others’ needs and interests with a respectful recognition and advocacy of our own.
This isn’t about endorsing patterns of blatant self-centeredness nor about encouraging indifference to awareness we may have let others down. To those we’re aware we might have disappointed, we might choose to empathetically acknowledge their disenchantment.
But simultaneously we mindfully recognize, unless we choose to live in the equivalent of psychological strait-jackets (which is to say lives dedicated rigidly, compulsively, self-compromisingly to being almost always non-disappointing)—we mindfully recognize the inescapability of those aforementioned twin realities: As assuredly as the sun rises and sets each day, others will sometimes disappoint us, just as we will sometimes disappoint them. And we recognize, just as importantly, the cost and futility of fighting these realities.
In doing so, we challenge ourselves, however counterintuitively and however much practice it requires, to become good disappointers.