Disappointments are natural occurrences in life and there’s no escaping them. Whilst you can’t predict them, you can build up coping mechanisms to fight off the feelings of despair or anger and turn them into a learning experience.
I bet you know one or two people who seem to live charmed lives, at least on the surface. You might be a bit envious of them as they scoop every job they apply for, find the most attractive and successful partner without even combing their hair or find opportunities drop in their lap like gold from the gods.
Feel sorry for them instead as they miss out on the opportunity to grow and evolve. Making mistakes and handling crashing disappointments in life are the best ways of improving those soft skills that are important to relationships and gaining a deeper meaning of life ; communication, listening, empathy, appreciation of small things and resilience. Being challenged draws us out of our comfort zone and knocks the smug smile from our self- satisfied faces.
For many, disappointments come from setting unrealistic goals and expectations. How many times have you said to yourself or worse still another person, ‘By the time I am ( age) I will ( fill in gap). At one time, interviewers used to ask that very question. ‘Where do you hope to be in five years’ time?’ It’s a nonsense question. Our hopes and attitudes are constantly shifting and by laying out a clear plan for your future is a sure way of setting yourself up for disappointment.
Thing is, disappointment is never quite as bad as it feels initially. In fact, you might be relieved that you didn’t get that house or marry that person. It’s reassuring to think that something might be looking out for your interests ( God, universe, a leprechaun) but maybe something smashes your hopes because you weren’t in the right head space to accept it. I’m a believer in Carl Jung’s theory of synchronicity. Everything happens at the “right” time. Whatever that means.
What’s the best way of handling disappointments?
Take a lesson from the Stoics. They believed that the only thing we can control are our reactions to whatever life throws at us i.e our thoughts and feelings. Most psychologists would say the same which is why Cognitive Behavioural Therapy is a tool of choice in therapeutic practice.
Helen poked her head out of the back door and held out her hand to test for rain. The dahlias in her back garden nodded their bronze and yellow heads in the September breeze and looked so gorgeous she made a note to photograph and email them to her daughter, Sheena.
The chiming of the church clock reminded Helen she was going to be late for her computer class if she didn’t hurry. Pulling on her jacket, she looked round for her bag and slipped out into the light drizzle to walk the mile into town.
With the dramatic Malvern Hills behind her, the range of summer greens slowly turning to the colour of bracken and copper, Helen walked carefully down the steep slope, grabbing the handrail whenever a stab of pain shot through her knee. The doctor had said swimming would help strengthen the muscles but at her age she didn’t relish getting into a swimming costume to show off wobbly thighs.
It was difficult to miss the sign for Silver Surfers in the church hall belonging to the ancient Priory. As Helen followed the arrows she felt a queasy feeling in the pit of her stomach. Sheena had taught her how to email and to attach documents and photographs and from time to time she searched for interesting bits of family history but that was as far as her knowledge went.
The room quickly filled up with people chatting over refreshments as Helen stood by the door watching them nod and laugh and wave to people they knew. Some smiled as they inched past her to find their places. A row of white laptops blinked patiently, as eager fingers flexed over keyboards in readiness for the lesson.
‘Hello, I’m Ray, the tutor. You are?’
‘Helen Watterson. I’m new.’
‘Welcome. Have you had much experience of technology?’
Helen explained her limits, explaining that she’d like to be able to write a short book of family history for her daughters. ‘Sheena keeps telling me to go on Skype but I don’t know what she means.’
‘What about business transactions? That’s what we’re doing today.’
Helen frowned and hitched her bag back onto her shoulder as she tried to make sense of what he meant.
‘Online banking, paying bills, buying things?’ He glanced surreptitiously at the clock.
‘Oh not banking. You hear terrible stories of hi jacking.’
Ray smiled and guided her to a seat between Martin and Joy telling her not to worry. Martin offered her a mint while Joy fetched her a glass of water.
‘We will help you if you get stuck. If we don’t get with the technology we’ll get left behind,’ she laughed. ‘See John over there? He’s eighty-four and is a whizz on the keyboard.’
Helen ran her tongue over her dry lips and took off her jacket as a trickle of sweat formed on her brow. A notebook at the ready, she focused on the overhead screen and tried to follow Ray’s instructions. Martin leant over and showed her where to click the cursor.
By the end of the session, Helen felt exhausted and tearful. Why had life become so complicated? What was wrong with the old fashioned way of going into the bank and having a chat with the clerk? Only yesterday had she gone into the branch at the top of Church Road and explained about her card being spat out by the hole in the wall.
‘Some of us are going down to the theatre for a coffee? Would you like to come?’ Helen was about to say she had things to do but Joy’s inquisitive eyes were also kind so she nodded, relieved to have a break from her empty house.
Over drinks she admitted that the class had scared her so much she didn’t think she’d go again.
‘Ray’s a good teacher but I’m not fast enough.’
‘That’s how we all felt at first. I was forced to go online as they say because my family live in Canada now. It means I can see my grandchildren playing and chat to them. They show me their homework and… well the pain was worth it.’ Martin, broke off a bit of his large cookie and gave it to Helen. ‘Cheer up. We’re a friendly gang and we’ll help.’
They chatted about their families and how hard it was to be away from them. By the time they said their goodbyes, Helen had to admit that the internet could be a lifesaver.
The walk back up the hill to Rose Cottage, past the art gallery and the little bookshop, seemed less of a drag as she thought about the new friends she’d made. They’d even invited her to join their music appreciation class.
As Helen turned the key in the door, she caught sight of the postman trundling his trolley along her lane. She waited to see if he had any bills or more junk mail for her recycling bin.
‘Your garden’s looking lovely,’ he said, rooting through his bundle.
‘Thank you. It’s a bit of a struggle because of the slope,’ she laughed, patting down her hair as the wind tugged strands from its band.
‘A letter for you today.’
Helen felt the smooth, creamy envelope between her fingers and frowned. The writing sloped to the right and was like the flowing copperplate that she had once learned at school.
She took it into her sunny living room and looked out over the common where dog walkers stopped to chat. Malvern was such a beautiful place to live even now Jack had gone. Digging through a drawer of her bureau she found his silver paper knife and slid it carefully under the flap, wondering who on earth it could be from.
Dear Mum, You said you would love to receive a letter in the old fashioned way so here it is. ….
‘Well I said to our Sheila, it’s no good asking her Roger to do something, she’s got to be forceful. Tell him what you want.’
‘Oo Doreen, you are bold and at your age.’
‘I said, if you don’t like it one way cos it’s uncomfortable, then try a different position. Women are equal partners these days.’
Doreen’s needles click clacked along with her lower denture as she nattered away.
‘What’s that you’re knitting? Cherie, peered over her shoulder.
‘’Nother balaclava for our brave boys out in Afghanistan.’
‘Give it ‘ere,’ said Marjorie, switching it back and forth as she held it up to the light. ‘Isn’t it supposed to have a slit, you know for the eyes? How’s the poor boy going to see?’
‘Minor detail, Marje. I’ll sort it out when I’ve finished. So I said Sheila, when things get samey, they get boring. Get one of those books off the internet to stir up your imagination.’
‘Tea, ladies? Finish the row first.’
Needles were carefully laid down on the table as eyes swivelled down the line to see what others had been doing.
‘Lovely pink that, Beatty. Another scarf it is?’
Colour flooded into Beatty’s papery cheeks and she giggled.
‘Who for this time?’
‘Well,’ she looked around at the many pairs of eyes that had fixed on her, ‘there was an advert in the gazette asking for ladies to knit something for poor children in Africa, so I thought scarves would be perfect.’
‘In Africa? But it’s hot.’
‘Well not all the time. Not during the winter I shouldn’t think. Oh, I’ve done the wrong thing haven’t I?’
‘It’s all fine,’ said Mrs. Graham-Hill, the organiser of the group. There’s always someone in need for a lovely pink scarf. Biscuit anyone?’
Doreen rolled her eyes and reached out her chubby hand for a couple of chocolate digestives. ‘What are you knitting Mrs. GH?’
‘Me? Oh, I’ve just finished a beautiful coat for my granddaughter. Would you like to see?’
Mouths stopped chomping on biscuits as they all gazed at a grey tweed coat with glass buttons.
‘How old is Freya now?’
Mrs Graham-Hill looked to the sky for inspiration and seemed to be counting.
‘She’ll be nineteen months tomorrow.’
‘Er, isn’t it rather big?’
‘She’ll grow into it very soon. Time flies Doreen. Now, about the competition next week. We will be knitting squares to make into blankets.’
‘Who for exactly?’
‘Didn’t I say? It’s all on the sheet there. The Poodle club. I thought pastels would be best for the puppies. We don’t want to stress them with fluorescents do we Mrs. Gardner?’‘
Eyes landed on Mrs. Gardner’s growing pile of multi-coloured socks, none of which matched. Doreen smirked as she picked up her needles and got back to work.
‘Your Sheila. Does she mind her mother interfering in her, you know, private life?’
‘I’d hardly call moving the living room furniture round private.’