I sat on my bed, refreshing my emails every few seconds. My heart was pounding, but I was trying to keep my breath steady and focused, praying: “Please God, please God,” the whole time. I was down to the final two for a job that seemed like my absolute dream; everything about it had flowed so well, and I had known from the first moments of the interview that I was a strong contender. The final task was to write an article for the founder of the incredibly cool start-up where I was applying to be editor. Whoever’s piece he liked best, he would hire.
A writing task? What? This was a shoe-in, right? Just sign my name on the dotted line, now. I was feeling supremely confident. But that confidence was now fading fast, as I waited and waited for a response. I’d been told he’d get back to me today, but there was no denying that 5pm was fast approaching, and no phone call or email in sight.
Spoiler alert: I didn’t get the job. That pen-wielding punk, as I like to call this mysterious other applicant, beat me to it at the final hurdle. I was pretty shattered, not least because I’d been on a career break for several months while I figured out what I really wanted to do. This was the job that I’d built up, after all those months of working freelance and living nomadically, to be THE ONE. And now it was over. Someone else had beaten me to the prize, and not only that, I was left back at square one, with no other irons in the fire – or indeed, any other confusing English expressions.
I admit that I don’t like the feeling of disappointment. I think it’s safe to assume no one does. Modern life seems set up to avoid disappointments and delays, however minor or banal they may be. No taxis in sight? Let’s not risk the night bus: get an Uber instead! Your date went horribly wrong? Never mind, just hop back on Tinder for that dinner opening next Monday. Our fast-paced, technology-rich world is set up to help us avoid the unbearable feeling of not getting what we want, when we want it.
A Christian therapist called Dave Riddell talks about people who are “allergic to disappointment”, and I’ve been thinking about this phrase a lot lately. He says that many of us spend our whole lives trying to position ourselves in such a way as to avoid disappointment. He calls these people “crazy-makers” because of their effect on themselves and others. This can be manifested as behaviour that seeks to overtly control other people and circumstances, or it can be much more subtle, avoiding situations where we’re likely to be fail or be disappointed, not sticking our neck out or stepping up. The sad thing is that when we fear disappointment to such a degree, we end up counting ourselves out of our own lives – or becoming a complete sociopath. These are not ideal life choices.
The idea that pain and disappointment can be avoided completely in life is of course complete hogwash, as anyone who has ever spent 20 minutes in the queue at Royal Mail will tell you. (Sorry Royal Mail, it’s not just you: I have a deep-seated and personal loathing of post offices all over the world.)
We all know that disappointment is just a part of life. Yet knowing that it will come doesn’t stop us fearing it all the same. Our avoidant tendencies don’t help us deal well with disappointment when it inevitably comes. In the face of the crushing of our dreams, we are often inconsolable children, pulling down the blinds and flinging ourselves into our beds while speed-dialling a pizza delivery for four (please tell me that’s not just me). There has to be a better way.
There’s something that comes from being able to sit quietly with disappointment and pain, allowing ourselves to grieve, and also to bring ourselves – all of ourselves, especially our hurt – before God. There’s something about a time to “be still and know”. God is there. He is good. And it’s ok to be sad, or wrong, or disappointed. Let’s not be people who are allergic to disappointment. Instead, let’s be people who are able to embrace all of life’s experiences – the good and the bad – and acknowledge pain.
Yes, I believe that God will bring about all things for good. He will. But if you’re in a place of disappointment right now, and you’re running away from it – pushing it down – please stop. Please allow yourself to be okay with disappointment, and to recognise that yes, this hurts, but this too will pass – just allow yourself to go through it.
And if you’re someone who, like me, struggles with a severe allergy to disappointment, may I suggest that we go on a journey together of examining where we are allowing a fear of disappointment to rule our lives and our hearts? Where we may be refusing to take risks, or trust people, or let go of our façade of ‘togetherness’ in order to embrace some of the beautiful rough-and-tumble of life? Let’s not be crazy-makers, you and I. Let’s let go of disappointment.