Fair warning: this is the most exacting and analytical article I have ever written for this column. It stems from recent personal experience, but I thought it would be applicable for all of us as we apply, audition, interview, submit, etc. for our futures. There is that unspeakable fear of getting it and also of not getting it.
It usually comes in an email, nowadays. It used to be the letter. I suppose in some instances, it is still a letter. For me, it has been emails. They all start the same: formal, regretful, informative:
We regret to inform you…
And you know, right then, what the email or letter or whatever is going to say. You don’t have to read the rest of it but you do anyway just to make sure there’s no mistake because everyone knows that sometimes emails are missent or misaddressed or mis-something because there is no way under heaven’s name that this could really be a rejection, a disappointment, a letdown, a “one of those” emails. There is no way. No way. No.
So you, like me, read the whole email — every word. You try to find some way for it not to be true. Turns out it’s most definitely all true, from the first we regret to the last sincerely. Then you are left to process the disappointment of whatever it was you were regretfully, sincerely told. That’s the worst part, the after-the-initial-disappointment part. Because you have to pretend like it’s not a big deal. You can’t yell at the email, you can’t cry at the email because it just sits there in your inbox, smugly almost, refusing to really go away because even if you delete it, it’s still out there in cyberspace, laughing at you oh so sincerely and oh so regretfully.
OK, maybe it’s not that dramatic, but you get what I’m saying, don’t you? Please, dear reader or readers or Mom, if you are reading this (first of all: hi!), tell me I am not alone in this. Tell me I am not the only one who has received that email or letter or taken part in that conversation that we all dread to dream may become our reality. And after we realize that, yes, this is in fact our reality, we tend to follow what I like to call the Stages of Disappointment:
1. Amusement: “Oh, this is funny, yeah, it’s funny, isn’t it? So weird, so funny.”
Because we want to appear strong and invincible, we convince ourselves that whatever disappointment we have just received is no big deal and that it is, in fact, amusing. We laugh — nothing can get us down, this is really no big deal. Right?
2. Confusion: “Why? I don’t understand. It doesn’t make sense.”
Nothing is fair. We simply cannot rationalize in our microcosmic brains how the higher powers could have done this to us. We may have worked hard, performed our best, sacrificed, shed blood, sweat and tears. We may have considered ourselves the most qualified or the most entitled. Or it may have been a long shot — something we wanted with every fiber in our being but knew was perhaps just out of reach. Now, the full weight of reality has crashed down upon our tender dreams only to tell us: yes, yes, it was too far out of reach.
3. Superiority: “I’m too good for this, anyway.”
Our friends mostly do it for us by feeding our beaten egos such sweets to satiate our constant appetite for affirmation. By thinking that we are superior to whatever disappointment has befallen us, we can hope to move beyond our confusion. The confusion may not be rationalized, but it is at least excusable because, well, they (whoever the “they” may be) simply do not deserve us.
4. Failure: “I can never do anything. I’m not worth anything.”
This is the nighttime ritual of going over our respective days in our heads: everything we did right, everything we did wrong, everything we just didn’t do. Inevitably, that thing that disappointed us earlier looms its ugly (but inferior, of course) head. It feels like failure now. Who cares about being strong, who cares about the reasons, who cares what others think: it just sucks. It’s like unflavored Greek yogurt — just smooth enough to go down, but just sour enough to stay in your mouth and rot. Maybe you’ll camp out in the Failure stage for a few more minutes, but please, I beg of you, try to get out of there as soon as possible. Failure is probably the most dangerous stage to be in, because it allows room for stagnancy.
5. Peaces of Mind
Good morning and it’s not all been a dream. You have to deal with it for real now. Beyond Failure is the ability to reach Peaces of Mind. Not just one piece of your mind can have peace. In fact, my hope is that all our pieces would have peace. Therefore: Peaces. Does this make sense? Probably not. I like wordplay and I get really into it, if you haven’t noticed; but, really, what I am trying to say is that for the sake of all your pieces of mind, reach a certain or many certain peaces. Peace of mind may come in knowing the actual reasons for your disappointment or it may just come with the passage of time. Strive for peace, friends.
So there you have it. The Stages of Disappointment, as told by me, your friendly neighborhood therapist. We’ve all been at least in one stage. As much as it hurts or confuses you or takes a certain amount of self-rationalization, what I have learned, thanks to my dear mother (whom I seem to quote a lot), is that all will be well. Not just “this too shall pass” but a statement that, truly, all will be well. I have to believe that. That is my peace of mind. At the risk of becoming all Christian-university on you, my dear readers, I have to believe that things happen for a reason unbeknownst to me but that I have Someone who is causing all things to be well.
Let us take up one another’s burdens, one another’s disappointments. I, for one, am always here with a tissue, a shoulder or ice cream because somehow that frozen form of dairy serves as a healing balm in many occasions.
Believe with me, friends, that all will be well.
Follow Taylor Nam on Twitter: @nam_nam330