October 28, 2019

Gratitude For Disappointment

Once upon a time, when I taught high school, I had a discussion with an English teacher I’ll call Cliff. We shared stories of our first experiences teaching. He told me that his first day was the hardest. I wasn’t surprised. He caught me off-guard with his next sentence – after the day’s classes ended, he shut the door, collapsed in his chair, and wept. The students were unruly, the classroom management difficult, and the lessons ineffective. I had known Cliff a long time, back before we taught our first lessons, and he always appeared confident and sure of himself. I never imagined it possible for him to break down. He experienced disappointment at the highest level.

To my mind, disappointment is the gap between expectation and result. Prior to his classroom awakening, Cliff dreamt dreams of classroom discussion where students participated, engaged in group activities,and gathered knowledge. This type of thinking happens to most, if not all of us. We set goals, imagine the outcome, and then make it happen. Only the reality is that the activity of life never matches what we envision in our heads. This because we make assumptions about what it takes to reach our objectives, and the assumptions are based on what I call “virtues.”

Other may refer to them as characteristics, attributes, or values, but I feel virtues best reflects their nature. We adopt them to assist us in getting the meat out of life. They can be grouped into two broad categories: virtues of the mind and virtues of the heart. Virtues of the mind are the aspects of ourselves that deal with our intellectual activities. They guide us in navigating the workplace, public interactions with others, executing personal habits, enjoying hobbies, and so forth. These virtues include creativity, risk tolerance, pleasure, entertainment, and financial success. The other side of the equation has the virtues of the heart, which attends to the emotional and relational aspects of our lives – with ourselves and others. A partial list of these virtues are love, patience, empathy, humility, and integrity.

Keep in mind that each virtue has an opposite, a negative aspect, if you will. Creativity has dullishness, financial success has poverty, patience has impetuousness, and love has apathy. The positive virtues create openness and vulnerability, while the negative virtues create walls and barriers to protect from the inevitable heartbreak.

Now, the question to ask is this: are these virtues I am building my expectations around pushing me towards my best self or away from it? People often embrace negative virtues because they cannot handle the pain and rejection that accompanies an open heart. However, choosing to adopt negative virtues may offer benefits in the short term, but they they stymie growth and deep personal connections over a lifetime. When one or both people in a relationship build walls around their passions, a superficial association is the only result.

Of course we are not going to throw open the gates of our emotions to everyone we meet, but we must be mindful of our virtues and where we have placed our default settings.

When we have taken this step and have developed an awareness for how we are installing our virtues in our relationships – then we can truly exhibit gratitude for our disappointments. If we focus on our expectations and their attendant negative virtues, then we can be grateful that we now know what we have sown into our hearts and minds. We possess the ability to alter our direction, to adjust our course to unite with our best selves. For we become who we want to be and there is much in that to be grateful.

Conversely, when we look at our virtues and find them to be positive and directing us towards our best selves, we have great cause to celebrate with gratitude. We are marching in the direction of our goals. And yet we often feel disappointment because the reality of our lives does not match our expectations of that reality. In most cases, if we are living according to the positive virtues, then the gap between the two is of time. If this is the case, it is an opportunity to turn an analytical eye to where we are. If we are on the path to where we want to go, recalibrate the expectations to match the speed of accomplishment to the ultimate destination.

However, it is possible that we can be living the positive virtues of the mind and heart and still never close the gap between expectation and reality. We must be at peace with that and we can be grateful for the freedom to stretch ourselves, even if that desired outcome, that treasured outcome, never materializes.

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