I've had several disappointing things happen recently.
They are all small, so of course pale in comparison to major struggles I watch my friends face.
I can't complain about my petty problems because they are tiny, and yet a bunch of them piled up can create quite an irritant. But, just saying aloud, "I am disappointed" and "I am frustrated" perhaps can help, even if "aloud" is me alone sitting on my bed. Or, typed onto an oft-neglected blog that used to be my best friend around seven years ago.
I want to be a brat for a moment: I don't like to lose.
There are some successes for others which I will celebrate gladly; a job well done, they deserve it. But of course there are those other folks that I secretly wish would fail because they have hurt me. When they smirk with their success, it affects me even though I know a bigger person would be able to ignore it. My son is just as good as your son! And yet why do I care? If someone is so worried about comparing their offspring to mine, then that must mean mine are worth a comparison, yes?
And for those disappointments that don't involve other people directly, the answer is often time. If something doesn't happen the first try, then try, try again. I tell my kids "never give up!" and so of course I need to take my own advice.
My mom would often ask me when I was faced with a worry or decision: "What's the worst that could happen?" or "Will this matter in 5 years?"
The problem is that often the answers to my concerns these days do matter in five years, and sometimes for an eternity. But not always. Sometimes things seem permanent, but can be changed - with time, with effort, or with both.
I'm lucky - because I know I am very blessed in many ways. But just for a moment, I'm disappointed.
And then a moment later, I'm cheering.
While one weekend disappointed, the next was gleeful. Things came together. Things were accomplished. Goals no longer out of reach.
Nobody said, "You should have done it differently..." Yet.
But when or if the criticisms come, can I stand tall with the affirmation I am happy with my definition of success?
I enjoy doing interviews for my alma-mater. Sometimes I've come across potential students who truly do not want to attend my particular college. They only apply to appease their parents.
One memorable experience came when I saw a woman lurking behind a dumpster at Starbucks, trying to coach her son from afar using hand gestures and mouthing words. Instead of taking her cues, the son whispered, "I am supposed to get in to an Ivy instead of being a disappointment, like my older brother was when he only got into [an excellent school, but not an Ivy]. But I really don't want to go back East."
And then there was the time I approached my interview room to witness a mother forcefully directing her son, "You'd better just pretend, then. Just tell them this is the school that is your top choice. TELL THEM!" Once I was alone with the child, I was able to gently encourage him to follow his own dreams.
There is a great deal of pressure to "succeed" where the definition of success is most definitely the overbearing father's and helicopter mother's, not the student's.
Recently a fellow middle-school mother told me she had withheld some information from my son because she didn't want him "to experience the sting of failure" should a particular project not receive funding. (Never mind that my son didn't have anything to do with the grant-writing process, so could hardly be responsible for any "failure!")
Over and over again, inspirational quotes tell us that failure is a learning experience. Mistakes educate us. There is no such thing as perfect.
And even so, perfection for one person is surely not the ultimate goal for a different person. It is so obvious, and yet so many of us judge others by our own standards rather than keeping in mind that the other person has different standards.
When someone tells me I've failed, is that really true?
When someone tells me I've succeeded, is that really true?
Does it matter, or can I be secure enough in myself to not care?