The Road Paved with Disappointment
About a month ago, I was driving to downtown Franklin, Tennessee with a friend and spilling my fearful, panicking guts from the passenger’s seat. I had just received news that I would not be getting a job I had spent three interviews preparing to accept. I was rundown and disappointed, feeling lost in the jungle of post-graduation.
“You should just drive across the country,” she said lightheartedly, and laughter ensued. Drive across the country, what an absurd idea. But then the joke got taken one step too far and all of a sudden we were plotting about who would pay my rent for a month and where I could stop to stay the night in Oklahoma and Arizona and California. Suddenly, I was calling my parents and asking if I would still be allowed to come home for Christmas if I made a rather (arguably) reckless decision and drove my tired, thirteen-year-old car across the country. (It took some negotiation but I am, indeed, still allowed to come home.) We sat in a coffee shop for an hour and hammered out the plan and concluded that there really wouldn’t be one, that sometimes you have to take a leap, whether or not it looks like a promising landing, and whether or not people are going to speculate about where your mind might have run off to.
I have been in California for almost three weeks now and it has been the sweetest inhale of grace. The soil I have been planted in has been a mixture of challenge and beauty and standing face to face with the fears and hopes that are currently swirling around in my heart. I have had coffee and dinner and afternoon adventures with dear friends and family that I don’t often get the opportunity to spend time with, and those hearts have been overly generous with their kindness and wisdom. I have been given a clearer vision for dreams that have been entrusted to me and feel fueled up to chase after those things with a reenergized hustle and my sense of adventure in tact.
But I have to say, the road that led me here – to moments filled with grace and kindness and driving 2,000 miles to California – has not been an easy one. About a week ago I received a call from a place that I had applied to work at in the fall. The first time around they passed me up, but now they have an open position for the summer and want me to fill it. This is a place I devoted most of my time dreaming of for the better part of last fall. It wasn’t just a job; it was the job – the job I wanted to fill my first year after graduation. The position they offered me is not the one I originally applied for, but it’s still a position and it still means I get to go and be in a new place, serving at the most beautiful camp in British Columbia.
When I received the phone call, I really wanted to be happy. I wanted to embrace the opportunity in a two-armed hug and dance around the living room, basking in the joy that they were impressed by my application. But, instead, sadness overwhelmed me. The first time, when I received an email saying that I would not be offered the position, I threw a that’s-just-not-where-God-wants-me blanket over the disappointment and stuffed it way deep down in my heart, hoping to shut the sadness up and move on. But there I was, hands full of a new opportunity, and standing face to face with months filled with very real disappointment that I had been stuffing down in an attempt to bypass any amount of hurt. The sadness that I had ignored the first time was creeping up and prodding at my heart, demanding my attention.
Anybody who has had any measure of success will tell you that the road they walked to that success was paved with failure and hardship and disappointment. I think often when we arrive at something that looks like a destination – because it is inherently filled with moments of joy and goodness – we conclude that we cannot possibly harbor any sort of resentment toward all the disappointment that met us on our way. I think ignoring the disappointment is a good way to give it permission to define you.
Goodness along the roads we walk does not negate the sadness; success does not negate the failure, and just because we receive moments of affirmation does not mean that the disappointments don’t call into question our identity and worth and qualifications. It doesn’t make you spoiled or ungrateful to acknowledge and mourn the disappointments, even as you know that they pave the way to better things; it makes you human with a very real human heart that bares bruises when it is kicked hard. Disappointment and gratefulness are not mutually exclusive, and they can both be felt alongside one another honorably.
Over the last month I have noticed the way that ignoring the disappointments has been holding me back. I have dressed disappointment up as this huge, scary monster that I’ve refused to confront and no longer wish to encounter or deal with. It has gotten harder for me to take risks and put myself out there for fear that the disappointment monster will show itself and gobble me up for good. Confronting the disappointment, though, has shrunk the beast that I have fabricated in my mind and reminded me what kind of relationship we were meant to have with it. Disappointment is very real and possesses a mean right hook, but it does not get to, nor is its intention to, define us. It does not wish to hold us back but to prepare us for the true destination.
When we look disappointment in the eyes we see that it was always meant to be a guide, a lamp lighting our way, but never a monster attempting to knock us down on the path. Disappointment whispers to us, keep going, this isn’t it but you’re going to get there—but if we plug our ears and refuse to listen to it, we will always be misguided. The road paved with disappointment can lead to a job you never knew you wanted or a new city or running around in the ocean, laughing hysterically on Valentine’s Day, but that doesn’t make the road any less difficult. And our ability to stare in the face of our disappointments and failures and mistakes, and take away their ability to define us while allowing them room to guide us, will make the destination that much sweeter.
[Photo by Juliette Kibodeaux.]