How to Prepare for Disappointment


Preparing to be disappointed by people you work with is key to staying calm, but also to developing them for the future. Let me explain why.

You know when you’ve been looking forward to something for ages, and yet it fails to live up to your expectations. The only programme I ever watch on TV is Game of Thrones (no spoilers included). Series 8 comes along, and I was a bit disappointed with episodes 1 and 2. As much as I wanted to be excited about the prospect, there was a part in the back of my mind that was preparing to be disappointed with episode 3. I wasn’t disappointed, it absolutely exceeded my expectations, and I enjoyed it all the more because of it.

You would have experienced the same (not necessarily Game of Thrones), whether it was a meal, a holiday, a film, any experience that just didn’t live up to your expectations. But it also works in reverse. Something you are not expecting much from blows you out of the water, and because you weren’t expecting much, it was all the sweeter.

Well that’s kind of life in general. And people are no different.

“When you wake up in the morning, tell yourself: the people I deal with today will be meddling, ungrateful, arrogant, dishonest, jealous, and surly,” said Marcus Aurelius

People will let us down by not meeting our expectations. On rare occasions, people will do it deliberately, but in my experience, these are rare indeed. We live in different times, and the knife in the back faced by Marcus Aurelius is very different to the metaphorical one we face in in our workplace.

There are a whole number of reasons that people don’t meet our expectations, which leaves us feeling disappointed.  How does that impact on our relationship with them as their manager or leader? It is very difficult to hide disappointment, which is sometimes useful, often not. We are faced with choices everyday, and most of the time they have not met your expectations because they have made choices which were different to the ones you wanted them to.

The choices they make may be that they didn’t prioritise learning how to do a certain piece of work you wanted, or that they’ve prioritised going for a drink with someone they care about instead of working on something you wanted, or prioritised dealing with an increasing workload instead of customer X. All valid reasons at the time that they could probably try and justify. We face the same choices for those who lead and manage us, so this is not a “I’m better” scenario, we all face choices…and we all screw up.

Now here’s an important point, the ability to disappoint doesn’t just go up a workplace hierarchy. It includes peers, but as leaders, it also flows downwards. It is inevitable that you would have disappointed someone who you lead. I bet you can think of this without too much difficulty. I bet you can also justify it. Well, you can justify it to yourself maybe, but can you justify it to the person you disappointed? You see, it works both ways.

Marcus Aurelius wrote the quote above at the very beginning of Book 2 of Meditations. At the end of the first paragraph, he also says how important it is we still work together, without feeling anger.

“To obstruct each other is unnatural. To feel anger at someone, to turn your back on him: these are unnatural.”

Preparing to be disappointed is not a negative. It allows you to plan for events if you are disappointed, and to mitigate risk. It allows you to deal with the other person with more sincerity, with a greater understanding of what choices they made to create the disappointment. It makes for a far healthier conversation so that you can help guide their priorities for next time, so that the work is done in the way you needed. It also allows us to understand choices we made when we disappoint someone else…AND…how to remedy it for next time.

How do you deal with disappointment when you feel people let you down? Get in touch and let me know.

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2 thoughts on “How to Prepare for Disappointment”

  1. You ask of me to share how I deal with disappointment when I feel people let me down. First of all people have let me down all of my life and they still do. I let other people down all of my life, until I received my Savior, Jesus Christ, then He changed me through His given Spirit I received when I crucified myself Spiritually for His sake. I do not listen to any other person from any other century, including this one. He speaks to me personally through His Spirit and Word, and through others by way of His Spirit and Word. Marcus Aurelius is one of the Greek philosophers that created Stoicism. I know you know this but other readers may not. Stoicism is a teaching that comes through our work of making ourselves fit to live correctly. Jesus is the only philosophy that is freely given and freely received by way of God’s Spirit that lives in and through a person. The Holy Spirit of God teaches me all things. He puts His laws in my heart and renews my mind in ways that take me far past my own strength, wisdom, and behavior I can manifest on my own. Through His grace I am never disappointed to the point I put my head down by the weakness of myself or of others. He guards my heart and continues to lift me up past myself, others, and this world people call the true reality we are a part of. My reality I live through my Spirit and soul is much higher than this one, and Jesus is the only one that can take anyone there!

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