Relationships Soul

How to live beyond disappointment

“We judge others by their actions. We judge ourselves by our intentions.”

I’m always reminded of this quote (which is ascribed to Stephen Covey) whenever I find myself tempted to with the feeling of disappointment. My writer’s brain splits this word into two: dis-appointment.

There is a distance between this moment and the appointed moment I was anticipating. The dictionary definition is “sadness or displeasure caused by the non-fulfilment of one’s hopes or expectations” or a “person or thing that causes disappointment.”

The difference between what people say and what they actually do is often where relational challenges stem from. I am practicing the art of being a realistic optimist when it comes to the relationships in my life.

I want to believe the best of others, while having a healthy viewpoint that what I perceive to be a perfect picture of our relationship will not be the actual reality of how the relationship evolves. So I’m finding that if they fail to follow through on something (either something they said they would do or something I assumed they would do), I’m no longer embattled by the inevitable disappointment and frustration results from being overly emotionally invested in a particular outcome.

If they do follow through on something, it is a happy surprise and I express my appreciation accordingly. (Granted, eight years of marriage has been a major catalyst in developing this aspect of emotional maturity in my life!)

I wasn’t always this balanced. For years, I faced the pressure of massive emotional and mental strain to filter through times of disappointment. Previously, I lived from an external locus of control: when things worked out; I was happy. When they didn’t; I was miserable.

Working in fundraising for over 10 years, I learned the value of building an income pipeline. For example: a particular donor would pledge an amount for a donation. We would get excited about the prospect of the money coming in (often millions in potential funding) and fulfilling a real need. Then, a few days would pass, maybe a few weeks – then months. And no fulfillment of the pledge.

Living beyond expectations

Remember the old saying: “don’t put all your eggs into one basket”? My modern update of this adage is: “adopt a 50/50 mindset”. This donation (or sale) may or may not come through. If it does, great! But if not, what else do I need to do to cover this target amount?

I didn’t realise it at the time but I was also getting a practical masters in business administration. Entrepreneurs who pin all their hopes (and time, focus and energy) on a particular pitch or proposal panning out, quickly learn that this is a fool’s game.

Proactively expanding income streams is the only guarantee of slow and gradual success in business.

We don’t realise it, but we play this mental roulette in relationships too. We expect our spouse or partner to be the single source of filling our emotional, physical and spiritual need for connection. No wonder we get mad when a human being can’t fulfil our every need (but we forget that we can’t serve as a god for anyone else, either).

Or we expect that the next job, or holiday destination, or new connection – will be the thing we’ve been waiting for to make us happy. Like disappointment rabbits chasing the elusive carrot, we accept that this is what life is about.

Always chasing, never reaching the goal.

No wonder there is such widespread anxiety and disillusionment with life as we know it. The other extreme is to abandon expectations altogether but that just results in a nihilistic worldview that steals our smiles.

My healthier-than-before outlook on life (and love and work) stems from shifting to an internal locus of control. Integrating my spirit (connection to a higher purpose) fuels my energy and motivation from the inside out.

I don’t work to feel accepted and loved. I know that I am loved and valuable – and therefore I can work from a place of strength. If things don’t work out, I challenge myself to create alternatives. If things do work out, I celebrate in the moment and then work to keep expanding the pipeline.

I can’t outsource my validation. I determine the level of my joy. When I work from a place of wholeness (purposefully connecting all parts of my life together with the string of purpose), I am then able to serve others without requiring a return on my investment.

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