If you grew up with stereotypical dad — one who said “okey dokey” all too often — then he probably had some version of, “Life is unfair and then you die.” (I think this is supposed to make you feel that everything is going to be hunky-dory.)
Life is indeed unfair. Or rather, life is a thing to which fairness simply does not apply. Just as a baby or a turtle isn’t immoral, but rather amoral; life isn’t unfair, but rather an enormous collection of random goings-on and fly-by opportunities and drive-by shootings, with tiny pockets of ostensibly fair systems embedded within.
We should simply learn to expect disappointment, not to fear it, and to respond to it with awesomeness. If you’ve been recently disappointed, or are living tentatively for fear of losing your job, boyfriend, looks, apartment, or beloved elderly Weimaraner, here are some ideas.
Disappointment is simply unexpected freedom.
If you discover that, actually, you won’t be going to grad school, or your job will not be needing you, or, surprisingly, your husband has plans to not spend the rest of his life with you, you are suddenly going to have a lot of free time on your hands. Maybe not at first — you have to find a source of income really fast, or get a divorce lawyer. But in the big picture — you’ve got years of free time you weren’t really planning on.
When disappointment hits, try to say to yourself: I’ve been given a gift of unexpected freedom! I just have to fill out a bit of paperwork first.
What do you do with that freedom? That’s the fun part.
Respond to disappointment with awesomeness.
Do you worry too much? The solution to worrying is to make mutually exclusive plans.
If you are not laid off from your job, you will campaign for the top job in x, y, and z ways. If you are laid off from your job, you will become a yoga instructor, or decamp to Thailand for three months. If you’re broke, you could take every free workshop in town — finally getting to see what it’s like to wander the city at 2pm on a Tuesday — until you figure out what you want to do. The point is that it is not possible to take both of these paths. Yet, if both of these paths are exciting to you, then you really can’t ever be disappointed.
When I say that we should respond to disappointment with awesomeness, I mean that we should keep some plans in our back pocket for things we probably won’t do if all the good stuff in our lives works out the way we want. Because it does seem unlikely that you’ll lose your biggest client in the same week that your boyfriend comes out of the closet, it’s pretty easy to make awesome plans for what you’ll do in just such a circumstance. (Get ballsy! Go teach English in Korea and have hot sex with someone whose language you don’t even speak! See Bullish: When To Make Massive And Ballsy Life Changes For Your Career.)
That is, it’s pretty easy to imagine awesomeness when we don’t actually plan to follow through anytime soon. If your darling dog did, sadly, succumb to his heart murmur — think of all the other needy dogs you could foster. Pickles’ chew toys could provide joy to dogs who have been deprived the pleasures of chew toys. Maybe it’s possible to become #1 dog foster parent ever by, for instance, using your photography and marketing skills to showcase the dogs’ most charming qualities and thus find them new homes like some crazy dog yenta.
If, for some reason I could no longer write this column, or teach or coach anything at all, well, the next most awesome thing I can imagine doing is becoming an action-adventure hero. I doubt I’d get cast in the next Hollywood blockbuster, of course, but I think I’d try to script and film a hilarious superhero web series, and then I’d probably find that exhausting and need to make some money, so I’d make little instructional videos about how to do all the things I’d been learning to do (rappelling! punching not-like-a-girl!) and open some kind of action-hero academy that mostly took place in city parks and thus didn’t have to pay rent (see Bullish: You Can Start A Business By Tuesday). I’d try to start a movement kind of like burlesque, where ladies get all creative and craft their own costumes and personas, except we’d all be superheroes and wear athletic footwear and we’d never have to worry about getting glitter out of our ladyparts.
Of course, some disappointments in life are much more serious than losing your job. If, god forbid, your whole family died in a fire, you could abscond to an ashram in India, or you could develop a Ms. Fire Safety persona and visit elementary schools telling your story in a way that won’t terrify the kids too bad. You could help others, or just have a completely different life, as most people don’t get — or don’t take — the chance to live more than one life in a lifetime. If you find that sort of squicky — living a full and flourishing life following great tragedy — well, why? If you suffer eternally and live a limited life forever, who are you helping?
I talked in Bullish Life: How to Reduce Your Stress Level Immediately about mapping out worst-case scenarios and putting them in their place; your anxiety generally lessens quite a bit when you realize that, no matter what happens, you’re probably not going to die or go to jail. Maybe on that map, you could make some arrows leading someplace awesome that you would never otherwise go.
Fear of disappointment poisons the system. Fear can be replaced with excitement.
If you are living in fear of losing your regular paycheck or your lover, it probably shows. You are probably undercutting yourself, acting subservient, and living anxiously where you could be living joyfully.
You avoid living in fear by living with excitement for the possibilities that open themselves to you when randomness strikes, as it always does. If you lost your job, you would be able to fully throw yourself into starting a business. If you got divorced at fifty, you could go flirt with young men in the Bahamas, and then fill your entire house with floral patterns and plastic flamingos. You obviously shouldn’t walk around filled with excitement for all the fun things you could do if your family died in a fire, but you certainly can walk around impressed by the sheer unimaginability of all the possibilities available should your life take any kind of unexpected turn.
The world is a huge place, and there are so many other lives you could be living. I always recommend traveling, and especially traveling alone, to really help see that (see Bullish: How to Travel Like a Gentlewoman). While a pack of American tourists just tends to breeze through places, a thoughtful lone traveler can usually sit quietly in one place for long enough to think: I could live here. And so many things would no longer matter. I’d like to start some organization that just scoops up suicidal people and puts them on a plane. And then they wake up in Istanbul and someone brings them some tea and they walk around trying to find breakfast and they realize, All those things that were so bad just aren’t relevant here.
Living in fear of disappointment is often worse than disappointment itself. You quell that fear with the knowledge that every disappointment is simply a sudden freedom, and a certain space and emptiness are needed to make room for awesomeness.
originally published on The Gloss