Disappointment to Hope

I’ve discovered disappointment is sometimes a path to hope. Whether a relationship or a job prospect falters or fails entirely, regret can lend itself to optimism within me. How? Sometimes it’s just the possibility I need to be reminded of for my faith to be renewed. Sometimes I don’t need the actual dream to come true; I simply seek evidence that it’s not hopeless or impossible.

A disappointment can remind me that opportunities I couldn’t have previously conceived of can arise anywhere—even if I see no means before me. When I am staring into a future that seems devoid of possibilities and not even a glimmer of hope hangs on the horizon, that is when even a failure is promising.

I first learned this lesson of the disappointment-to-hope connection through matters of the heart. At some point in my mid twenties I gave up on love. It wasn’t that I stopped believing in the truth of love, I simply stopped expecting to find it for myself. I saw plenty of examples of healthy relationships around me. I had the love of my friends and family. But when I tried to imagine myself in love or being loved romantically, it seemed as impossible as finding a talking unicorn on my next trip to Narnia.

It wasn’t hard for me to give up on love. First of all, I’m an introvert. I was quite amenable to the thought of being single for life and having my own room/apartment/home indefinitely. To an introvert like me, the best part of living alone is the ability to close myself behind a door and know with certainty that no one can disturb my bubble of silence and solitude. To this day I have to periodically change the tone of my phone’s ring once I’ve become conditioned to cringe at its sound. That’s how much this introvert hates interruptions.

Giving up on love was also easy because I just couldn’t imagine it happening. Who out there in the world could possibly put up with me—let alone love me? I’m quirky. Odd things matter a lot to me. I need to surround myself with a level of organization and order that most find either unnecessary or puzzling. Even I sometimes find it exhausting (though no less necessary).

I care deeply that things be put where I think they belong. And I can’t always explain why something should go somewhere, only that it must. I cannot leave my bed unmade. I cannot do serious work in noisy conditions (and by noise I mean anything other than silence). And if there is going to be noise, I need to be in control of it or able to cover over it. To drown out disruptive ambient sounds, I’ll wear headphones and listen to minimally distracting music.

I’m also serious and goofy and mature and completely childish. I am a lover of the arts and athletics. I’m strong and sensitive as well as conceited and insecure and generous and selfish. I’m not girly, but I am feminine. Oh, and I’m always right and a bit argumentative.

I could not conceive of the man who would sign up for all of the above. And if The One did exist, could I find him? And I can’t emphasize this enough: That was a very big “if” in my book. But assuming The One was real, how would we meet? My life was pretty insular: school/work, church, volleyball, and home—not much else received my time, energy, or attention.

School: After preschool, I never again shared a classroom with boys—aside from teachers and professors. I was busy being a good student and playing volleyball, so I didn’t care then that I wasn’t exposed to much dating material. But seventeen years of all-girls education also meant I didn’t graduate with any guy friends that might become boyfriends later—or introduce me to some.

Work: Nope—even though it was coed. While my various workplace experiences were sometimes a good source of crush material, I would never date a colleague.

Volleyball: I did play on a few coed teams, but I never had so much as a crush on a teammate. Most were beyond my scope of interest (i.e., much older and/or married). Besides that, when I’m in a competitive mode, the part of my brain that processes romantic interest gets turned off. Even if “Mr. Right” walked onto the court, I’d be too busy trying to win to notice him.

Church: Seemingly my best option since I wouldn’t marry someone who wasn’t a Christian. But as I looked around my congregation, I didn’t see anyone I was interested in. (Some time and a few congregations later I ultimately did meet my husband at church. But I didn’t see that love coming at all, because we were platonic friends first.)

I say all of that to say, I had given up on love, and I had my reasons. And then one day, I met this guy. The sky seemed bluer and the sun shone twice as strong. I was sure he was The One. I kept waiting to fall in love. And just when I thought we were at the threshold of happily ever after . . . he ended our relationship. For a few days I was incredulous. When he didn’t change his mind, I felt disheartened. Eventually I let go and the regret settled down. I took a look around, and what I saw was that my disappointment had opened a door to hope. (Mercifully, I was also able to see all the reasons I was better off without him.)

Before I met the one who turned out to not be The One, I’d thought finding love would prove impossible. However, although that relationship failed, I wasn’t left empty-handed. The mere fact that it had happened gave me a renewed sense of optimism. If I could meet this guy, then I could meet another out of the blue. My faith in love grew on that truth. Hope was unlocked by my disappointment. And so when opportunity knocked with the man who would one day become my husband, even though I wasn’t expecting love, I was open to it.

I’ve had similar experiences in my professional life as well. I’ve felt discouraged. I’ve been tempted to give up in despair. Whether I was unemployed or self-employed, I have found myself wondering if I’d ever work again. And then a job prospect would appear. It would seem perfect for me—a sure thing. I’d get my hopes up, confident that it was going to work out. But then, for one reason or another, the opportunity would fall apart. First I’d feel sad and less than. But again, once the dust settled on my disappointment, I’d take a look around and see that hope was left. I’d be reminded that a job could come from anywhere—even places I hadn’t looked.

If something can arise where I saw naught before, then seeing nothing doesn’t mean that nothing will ever come. And that’s why even setbacks and failures can bring me to a hopeful place. A disappointment is simply the prologue to something real that awaits.

Version 2

Hope can be the silver lining in a cloud of disappointment.


Writing Is Work

Sometimes writing feels effortless—neither my fingers nor my mind grow fatigued. Instead of being painfully aware of each minute—each second—time passes without my noticing or counting. I’m somewhere else. I’m fully absorbed and reside in the process. Sometimes (rarely) I’m so engaged I forget to remember to eat. When I finally stop, it’s like waking up from a dream.

Sometimes writing is work; it’s an onerous chore. Instead of a stream of thoughts, words come in a lethargic crawl. Finding a phrase or sentence to add is like coaxing a suspicious and timid animal into eating out of my hand. Adding another paragraph is like finding a contact lens at night on the beach in the windblown sand.

Sometimes I can sit at my computer and write without ceasing. My brain doesn’t self-censor. My mind doesn’t grow weary. Once in a while a topic moves me—sets my thoughts astir, and then those thoughts set my fingers to typing more and more. I find myself lost in an idea. I write without being self-conscious or self-aware. Words become the strong current of a river carrying me forward. Instead of feeling like a beast of burden, I feel like a productive conduit.

Some days writing is simple. I get consumed by an idea, and it feeds me. I can write for hours at a time without any barriers or shackles around my thinking.

Other days writing feels futile. The task is never truly done. It’s shoveling my car out only to be buried again by a passing plow. I feel like Sisyphus—except my boulder is words, and the blank page is my mountain. Finishing a work requires starting anew. Reaching the end is finding a bare beginning too.

Sometimes writing is like skating on ice—the slightest effort propels me forward and far. Other days it’s like slogging up a muddy hill wearing flip-flops—progress is clumsy and arduous.

Sometimes writing is sitting down to a banquet—a feast of ideas for me to choose from. I feel nourished. My head is full. Other days it’s like looking at a barren landscape or searching for water at the height of a drought. Coming up with a new idea is like harvesting a field during a famine. My mind is dry and empty. It’s a well with no water to offer up.

Some days writing draws me in—attracting me like a magnet—luring me closer like the Sirens’ call. Other days I feel repelled; writing is an opposing force.

But whether it’s an endeavor I savor or suffer, whether the words ease or are eked out of me, if I refuse to abandon the effort, my work will produce something . . . eventually.

No One Is Perfect

I spend most of my days trying to get to zero—trying to have zero unread e-mails in my inbox, zero unreturned calls, zero unseen items on my Facebook feed, an empty laundry hamper, a vacant kitchen sink, no tasks or errands left to do, none of my work for the day still incomplete.

My parents taught me that work should come before fun—that before I could play or watch television, my homework and chores needed to be done.

Throughout my academic (and now my adult) years, I’ve embraced that philosophy. I enjoy myself most only after I’ve addressed all of my responsibilities. But perhaps I’ve taken it a bit too far. I don’t fully relax and enjoy my breakfast until my cats are fed. My day doesn’t begin until I’ve made my bed. Sometimes (too often) I wait to pee or eat lunch until I’ve reached a “neat” stopping point in my work—i.e., the end of a chapter, page, or section.

As a recovering perfectionist, I have had to learn how to let things go—how to walk away from an unfinished project or unanswered e-mail so that I can eat, pee, sleep, or go home. It’s been an uncomfortable lesson—learning how to leave things for later, for (gasp!) someone else, or for tomorrow. I like to make my “done” checkmarks myself—and today—now!

True zero, much like perfection, is a Sisyphean goal—an elusive target that will never be struck. There is always more to be done. And what has already been done can always be improved upon. Perfectionism looks at the best a person can do and says, “Not good enough!”

The world is hostile towards perfectionists because the world is imperfect. It is full of rough edges, crooked lines, scars, scratches, and dents. It is full of things that were begun and never finished. Nothing is flawless. No one is perfect.

Perfectionism can get in the way of satisfaction. How can a perfectionist love life when life is messy so often?

Because I’m a perfectionist, I struggle to enjoy certain things. For example, for me, manicures are an adversary. First I obsess over picking the “perfect” color. No matter which hue I choose, I regret that I didn’t pick another. Once my nails are coated, I marvel at the feel and sheen of the enamel. I find my fingers fascinating. My attention stalks them. I can’t stop staring.

Inevitably I find a fault—a small sliver of my nail the technician failed to cover or a chip that formed because I don’t coddle my hands—I make them work. Once spotted, I can see nothing except for the flaw. I stare at it, making it bigger in my mind’s eye, until I can’t stand it any longer and reach for the acetone—one finger’s flaw requiring the rest to loose their color.

Perfection appears ideal, but it’s a dangerous mirage. It is blind to what is good because it is so focused on finding faults. Perfectionism is an ailment that pretends to be a cure. It promises to make things better (perfect), but it just makes things seem worse.

Young at Heart

You can be both mature and young at heart.

You can have a balanced budget and still enjoy stomping through puddles in your galoshes.

Just because you have bills to pay doesn’t mean you can’t use your tongue to catch a snowflake.

Work hard, but leave space in your life for play.

Grow up, but don’t throw your dreams away.

Try to keep crumbs and concerns out of your bed.

Don’t loose your imagination with your imaginary friends.

Play. Laugh. Dance. Be silly.

Take naps.

Get lost in daydreams.

Be an adult who ambitiously pursues fun.

Play is important work that needs to get done.

Still Life

One of the questions I most hate being asked is, “What’s new?” To an almost equal degree, I don’t like being asked, “What have you been up to lately?” I never feel that I have a satisfactory answer for either of those inquiries. What I really hear when someone asks me one of these questions is, “Entertain or impress me with the contents of your life. What exciting, extraordinary, or otherwise enviable thing are you currently doing or experiencing?” More days than not, I have no answer for that.

I lead a rather still life. Its peaks are not so high, and its vales are not so low. While some may lead lives that look like an action movie, travel saga, or family comedy, mine is more like a still life painting. It doesn’t vary greatly. At least once a year I go somewhere beautiful. (Fortunately my family is from the Caribbean.) But I’m not jet setting all over the world meeting new and exciting people or working to solve the world’s significant problems.

My husband and I have no children (by choice), so I have no tales about what “our precious little angel” said or just learned how to do. There is no little life that I can attach my own to and mine for interesting stories.

Yesterday, when I witnessed a potentially violent event that ultimately required the police become involved, I was happy to finally have a story to tell my husband when he got home. Two people are in an unhealthy, codependent, possibly violent relationship, the drama of which (in part) I got to witness, and that’s good news for me because I finally had more to say than “fine” when my husband asked me how my day was.

If I were to recount the content of an average day, I’d bore you to tears. And that’s not to say that I find my own life boring as I’m living it, but it doesn’t often make for a compelling story either. I can dig into my past. I can talk about my most recent vacation or when my mother died or the time our apartment building burned down and we were metropolitan nomads for nearly a year. But what did I do yesterday or last week? Trust me, you don’t want to know—work, errands, and chores, mostly.

As a freelancer, my professional life is sometimes thriving, but almost just as often (and much more often than I’d like) it feels like it’s on life support. My daily life is full of quiet and unassuming routines. I work (hopefully I have an active project or assignment), I clean, cook, and run errands, I play some volleyball and ride my bike. Most recently I’ve been going to physical therapy for a knee injury. Do you want to hear about my plyometric routines? They’re challenging, but not exciting.

My home life is a rather still one too. Some of that is intentional. I am trying to be more present—to give one person or activity my full attention rather than perpetually performing a multitasking juggling act. I have stepped away from activities that simply split my attention and devour my time without giving me anything substantial in return—like a mental challenge or real connection to someone. Instead of playing Candy Crush, I’m rediscovering my love for crossword puzzles.

There are times when I wish there was more movement in my life. I’d like to travel more. I wish my professional life was more consistently stimulating. When I don’t have a project that I’m working on, it’s hard for me to feel like a valuable part of society. Technically I know that what I do shouldn’t define who I am, but that’s much easier to believe when I’m doing something.

I am not complaining. I don’t want a frenetic existence. It may not be thrilling, but my still life is still life, and I’m grateful for it. I don’t equate busy or stressful with exciting or rewarding. However, I do wish that I felt less inadequate when people made innocent inquiries into what I’ve been up to lately.