My friend recently underwent a grueling job application process. So much time was spent fine tuning the cover letter, painstakingly reworking the resume and preparing for interview questions. She made it to the second interview, but alas, another candidate was selected for the job. Who hasn’t felt the reeling emotion of disappointment after anticipating something with great hope, pouring your heart into it, meticulously attending to every detail, and watching it come crashing down. There’s a feeling of loss, failure and despair that it was all for nothing.
Disappointment is especially painful when we put pressure on ourselves, or feel pressure from others, to excel and then don’t meet our expectations. This fuels self-doubt about achieving future goals. Gratefully, there is a remedy for the angst that disappointment creates. English poet and satirist Alexander Pope quips, “Blessed is he who expects nothing for he shall never be disappointed.” It’s a comforting perspective—not investing too much energy in any outcome. In my younger days I dabbled in poetry writing and loved the advice that poet William Stafford gave about writing. Stafford was in the habit of writing a poem a day. When questioned about what he does if the poem is weak he responded, “Then I lower my standards.” Maybe mediocrity is the key to happiness. Maybe turning it down a notch and setting the bar lower provides a sense of ease. Soaring with eagles requires so much energy.
I know, you’re probably saying that lowering expectations is settling for less, that avoiding risks is a faint-hearted way to prevent disappointment, that people who lower the bar use underachieving as a form of ego preservation. But Albert Einstein was considered an underachiever, and look how well that turned out for him. Isn’t it possible that “good enough” is the optimal mantra? According to Ray Bennett’s book The Underachiever’s Manifesto, “In our overachieving society, a little underachievement is the necessary corrective.” He urges us to live life to the minimum and love it.
Failure, falling short, and imperfection are inevitable parts of life. But clinging to expectations makes it hard to pick up the pieces when disappointment occurs. It’s possible that detaching and not investing so much urgency in achievement liberates us to either succeed with ease or fail without trauma. I’m not arguing that we should lose passion for our goals. I’m just saying that practicing detachment lowers the stress level, and not catastrophizing an event helps us to better cope with disappointment.
A case in point. I realize that I did not reach my goal this month of focusing the column primarily on senior citizens. The Senior Living column is geared toward growing older, and I drifted into living life productively. Granted, living life productively and growing older may be two sides of the same coin. Nonetheless, I didn’t meet my expectation. I suppose I could have started over, but maybe this time I’ll lower my standards, embrace “good enough,” and ease out of disappointment.
Mary Petersen is a retired COC English Instructor, 30 year SCV resident, and two-time breast cancer survivor