Dealing with Disappointment

Card #687 – Dealing with Disappointment


Optimism is needed to keep us viable, but let’s face it—life is often disappointing. Circumstances are often difficult, hardships and privations are real, health fluctuates, others often disappoint our hopes and expectations, our species is in trouble, aging can reduce horizons of possibility, and any of us could keep populating this list with classic life disappointments.

I have a fiery energy and tend toward optimism and enthusiasm for going forward, but disappointment predominates on the day I’m composing this card. In a message to a friend, I wrote,

I wish life was more symbiotic, but at the moment, it feels more like a series of shady business deals, and I’m not a very good businessman. My creative career has operated at a six-figure loss. I will persevere with it, but the energy return is slight. My relationship pattern is meeting others more than halfway and them meeting less than halfway, and that pattern is sadly consistent. The only answer is to lower my expectations of others, be more conservative with my energy and resources, and persevere for its own sake and for those, however few, who can benefit. I’m usually more of an optimist, but life is confronting me with sad realism.

The idea of this oracle, and most of my work, is that it be “equipment for living.” So how does acknowledging life disappointment provide that? By being authentic with what I’m feeling presently, I want you to feel that you are not alone if you struggle with disappointment. By acknowledging that life disappoints everyone at times, we can avoid misinterpreting it as our personal failure. If we’re going to grade our life performance (which I’m not recommending), we’d have to do that on a curve. If life disappointment indicated failure, we’d have to fail the whole class, and at that point, grading becomes meaningless. Life presents us with many dark elements, and sometimes feeling disappointed is an authentic response to the world. Part of the equipment for living here is to not add to those feelings toxic elements that can turn disappointment into depression or despair. So, do not conflate disappointment with personal failure.

Another lethally toxic element that should not be added to disappointment is quitting. Quitting can range from suicide to withdrawal from any activities that provide meaning and/or practical benefits. Perseverance is considered a supreme virtue in the I Ching, and I think it’s the central virtue shared throughout the plant and animal kingdoms. Whether you are a bird, a tree, or a person, you need the ability to persevere through difficult, disappointing, and dangerous circumstances.

Disappointment is a present tense feeling, not a prophecy. I feel disappointed now, but I don’t know what’s coming five minutes from now. Life is an up-and-down process and cannot be fully predicted. On a given day, I might have five disappointing things happen in a row, and then, unexpectedly, something awesome happens as the sixth event.

(See the epilogue of this card — in the minutes after writing the body of the card, three super-positive and unexpected events happened within minutes of each other!)

Do not think of present feelings of disappointment as prophetic, lest you create a self-fulfilling prophecy. You don’t have to be a Pollyanna either; just accept that the future is unknown and current feelings are not reliable predictors. Acknowledge what you’re feeling now, but keep a neutral and open attitude about what’s coming.

Use disappointment to make any needed course corrections. For example, some of my disappointment is because I meet people more than halfway, which increases the likelihood that they’ll meet less than halfway. I can correct that pattern by meeting others halfway, but not more than that. This course correction does not mean I will solve all life disappointments, but it means using relevant parts of disappointments as valuable feedback.  If I’m creating patterns that usually lead to disappointment, I can work on changing those patterns.  

Don’t let disappointment control you. Disappointment is a feeling, and it is not good to be ruled by feelings. Moods are like weather, unless catastrophic, they are merely in the background of the activities of my daily life. I focus on taking actions that fulfill my life mission (like writing this card) and avoid self-medication and other actions whose only value is short-term mood repair. Taking actions consistent with my life mission, regardless of moods, including disappointment, is my form of self-medication, and it’s quite effective. Being driven by a mood only gives it power. Focus on life-affirming actions, and better moods and motivation often follow.

Don’t let disappointment steal your life energy. Disappointment is a yin mood—cold, watery—the opposite of the fiery yang element. If you let disappointment turn into physical lethargy, staying in bed, eating poor food, taking intoxicants, etc. — you are giving it tremendous power. Counterbalance it by continuing to be active, exercising, and fueling your body wisely.

Withdraw energy from people and activities that consistently disappoint and use that energy toward something more meaningful and life-affirming. Above all, persevere in the face of disappointment. Don’t fall asleep in the snow; get up, take useful actions, and contribute to life.

Epilogue — Within five minutes of concluding the above writing, three unexpectedly positive events happened in rapid succession. Nothing is as great an antidote to disappointment for me as someone reporting value in reading what I consider my greatest work, Parallel Journeys. The cascade of positive events began with a message from a Facebook friend who uses this oracle and whom I’ve never met in person:

“Hey dude! Just want to say that I am loving this book even more. This book is doing an incredible job of bridging high strangeness with a rational framework. Usually, writers work exclusively on one side of the spectrum, but you’re really nailing it. I’ll probably buy the book for my wife when I’m done listening to it.”

Then my webmaster, Tanner Dery, sent me diagnostics about a surge of traffic and people signing up for Oracle memberships and my newsletter two days ago. When I looked into the data, I saw they were referrals from a high-profile person who I thought had canceled me a few years ago. He quoted from the Zap Oracle in his popular newsletter, praised this website, and suggested people sign up for my newsletter. Immediately after discovering this great news, the significant other who had most directly led to the mood of disappointment sent a seven-minute reparative voice message that began by addressing and correcting the thing that had most triggered me.

So this extraordinary constellation of positive events is not meant to imply that moods of disappointment will always conclude with unexpected positive occurrences, but if you look at what just happened to me, I was precisely following the advice I gave in the card by writing this card! Instead of succumbing to the funk, I persevered and used the disappointment to create new equipment for living for myself and others. The three positive events that followed feel like the cosmos generating three “like” emojis to strategies I just outlined for dealing with disappointment.

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