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The three Es of disappointment

By Sinem Bilen-Onabanjo
29 August 2020   |   4:01 am
Hard to believe, but by next week, we will have just four months of 2020 left. Between the pandemic, the lockdown, and the subsequent economic downturn, 2020 is the year that happened while we were busy making other plans

Hard to believe, but by next week, we will have just four months of 2020 left. Between the pandemic, the lockdown, and the subsequent economic downturn, 2020 is the year that happened while we were busy making other plans and passed by while we were merely trying to survive.

Almost daily, we see big corporate announcing job cuts, travel companies announcing bankruptcy, retailers announcing store closures. All around us, we’ve seen holidays, birthday parties, weddings cancelled. Look around you and the chances are you will know someone who would have cancelled a holiday, rescheduled a wedding, postponed starting a new business, or put off starting a family. Coronavirus came into our lives like a whirlwind at the start of the year and has disrupted everything in the space of a few months.

Looking back at the year we’ve had so far, almost half of which was spent hunkering down at home, a friend recently announced sombrely, “It’s been horrid!” I pondered this for a few minutes, and chose to disagree.

You may think I’ve been living under a rock to disagree with what seems like a fair assessment of the year we’ve had so far. While I appreciate that 2020 hasn’t been kind to many who’ve either lost lives, loved ones or livelihoods, it’s also been a year where the rest of us rediscovered the simple pleasures of life – like time spent at home, or the joy of spending time with family; truly spending time, baking, doing puzzles, playing games, finding ways to entertain the kids or home schooling them, rather than relying on soft play centres or plopping them in front of screens.

With most distractions unavailable during the height of the lockdown, and working from home, most of us have discovered the beauty of slowing down, not rushing every day between home and work, work and gym, drinks with friends, back home. Our longest commute was from the bedroom to the kitchen table, and most cherished the lack of ‘busyness’ that before the lockdown we all seemed to thrive on.

In my humble opinion, 2020 hasn’t been horrid. Granted, I enjoy a certain sort of privilege. I am grateful my life has not been impacted on by the pandemic in the way some lives have. I also realise, however, most of our disappointments are a result of three Es – expectations, ego and entitlement.

“Disappointment is the difference between our expectations and reality” it is often said. I try to start every year, by keeping expectations low. While this may sound pessimistic, it is not; there’s a difference between hope and expectation. You can hope for the best while keeping expectations low. With hope, you know good things can happen but you don’t necessarily expect them to happen; you are just delighted and grateful when they do. Think of each time you were disappointed by the outcome of an experience, an event or a new venture – it would have been almost always caused by the fact that it fell short of your expectations.

Think of those tiresome people, who go on a holiday, to spend every day of their vacation moaning about how hot it is, or how shabby the accommodation is, or how there aren’t enough activities. For someone else, the same holiday might be their best yet. The difference is the bar each person set for the holiday. I used to get really disappointed when a dinner party or a day trip didn’t turn out as I had expected; these days I am wise enough to know not many things turn out as we expect; the trick is to go with the flow and accept the reality. Immediately, any potential for disappointment instead turns into potential for surprise. Much like starting a new year, with hope and the anticipation of what it might throw at you, and how you will come out the other end, unscathed.

The second cause of disappointment is not that different from the first: our ego. The more seriously we take ourselves, the higher the risk of disappointment. You would have noticed people facing similar circumstances but tackling them very differently. For instance, redundancy – some can’t handle the idea of being dispensable and spend weeks throwing a one-man pity party while others pull themselves together, dust up the old CV and throw themselves into finding their next gig. To avoid disappointment, starve your ego, but feed your self-esteem so you can bounce back from disappointments quicker.

Finally, the last E of disappointment is ‘entitlement.’ I once read in a book that we should remember we don’t owe anything in our lives, we are just trustees. As scary as the thought was, it was also a liberating one. Imagine, you’re a trustee of your life, your job, your home, your spouse, your children. You don’t owe any of them. If either are taken away, you are meant to find consolation in the thought that you were entrusted with their care for a while only. It is a hard pill to swallow of course, especially if you’re faced with the loss of a loved one. Even the wisest amongst us would struggle with this; we are human, we claim ownership; we assume entitlement. However, imagine how much easier it would make loss to deal with if we could adopt this philosophy. How much easier letting go would be?

Admittedly, as humans we are all prone to falling prey to one if not all Es of disappointment which means we are quite easily and often disappointed.

With four months left of this year, and 2021 not much more certain in what it might have in store for us humankind, I wonder if we should start working on at least the first E and start taming our expectations?