Disappointment – You Wanna Sandwich? 

 November 16, 2021

By  Daisy

A couple of weeks ago, an Agility Challenge member mused in our discussion group that she wished more people would share their failures publicly (on social media). That she felt more and more inadequate seeing nothing but an endless stream of successes in her social media news feed. I think most of us can relate to this – I know I certainly can. A lively discussion followed, and many people expressed similar sentiments. Some stated that they would love to be able to learn from the failures of others brave enough to share those failures. Some stated that they would simply feel better about their own failures KNOWING that others were also experiencing failure.

You aren’t likely to see me share my failures, for a couple of reasons, one of which is that as a professional, it is my successes, and not my failures, which are likely to get you interested in the content and guidance I can provide to you to improve your own performances. In the course of providing guidance and content, I’ll of course include my failures in any given process or method, but in a setting where I can explain those failures and help you make sense of them, and how they may be a necessary part of your own process. 

But the biggest reason I’m unlikely to share my failures publicly is that when I fail, I am typically pretty disappointed. 

And THAT is the real topic here: disappointment

When I fail, especially in the ring at a big event, it’s a big disappointment for me. The higher the level of competition where the failure occurs, the higher my own level of disappointment. I feel it in my gut. I want to throw in the towel. I want to quit. There can be a lot of negative self talk, and, since I’ve been at it for a long time, a lot of “See? I told you this is how it would turn out” talk in my head. 

There’s no real point in me sharing my disappointment on social media, because the responses to me sharing my disappointment (and maybe to you when you share yours) are inevitably comments like:

  • It’s just dog agility
  • At least you got to go and compete
  • At least you have a dog to compete with
  • At least you’re in good health
  • At least
  • At least
  • At least

All of those responses are about the responder, and have nothing to do with any sort of empathy for my disappointment. And why would they? Social media is about vocal (written) engagement, and often, empathy is a much quieter and more personal type of engagement, with a lot of silence. Responses like:

  • I feel you
  • I get it
  • I’ve been there
  • I hear you
  • Man. Yea. Disappointment. It hurts
  • I don’t know what to say, but I’m glad you shared this with me.

Those responses are usually most meaningful when they come from somebody who is able to let the silence fill in the gaps. From somebody who can take a moment to remember a disappointment they felt, and how it felt. From somebody who can acknowledge how MY disappointment feels without turning it in to something about THEM. From somebody who can let me know through their words or actions that they acknowledge my feelings, that my feelings are valid, and that that may be all that I need in that moment. Not a solution, not a distraction, and not a pep talk.

Of COURSE I’m fortunate to be able to even go to a big competition.

Of COURSE I’m fortunate to have a wonderful dog to compete with.

A wonderful husband to watch the other dogs at home.

A wonderful friend to stay with.

The time and money to prepare to be at the event.

And of COURSE it’s “just dog agility“.

But NONE of that diminishes my disappointment. If I express disappointment and you simply remind me how lucky I am, you’re just telling me that I am not allowed to feel disappointment, or at least, that you don’t want to hear that I am feeling something that is gut wrenching, painful, and hurts.

Recently, I had a pretty disappointing weekend at a pretty fantastic event. In the moment, I often feel like I want to throw in the towel, because I do not enjoy feeling disappointed, or sad, or gutted.

I do not enjoy the feeling of reaching high and falling short.

It’s unpleasant.

But you already know all of this, because there’s a pretty good chance YOU’VE felt disappointment yourself.

I just love the below video. It’s a great excerpt from Brené Brown on the difference between empathy and sympathy. Are our typical responses to somebody sharing a disappointment empathetic or sympathetic?

I always seem to recover from my disappointment, and manage to turn it in to motivation to do better. But I’ve never managed to simply skip from poor performance to motivation. The disappointment seems to be, for me, a necessary bridge that must be crossed to get from the end of a poor performance to the beginnings of motivation to take action to improve my performances.

 I’ve been playing at this sport for a long time, and from the beginning, I was told in a variety of ways to hide my disappointment, or, even better, to strive to not even experience it. So I worked hard at it – hiding disappointment, and not even experiencing it. But, the better I’ve gotten at avoiding feelings of disappointment, the better I’ve gotten at avoiding ALL feelings. This has also been encouraged in a variety of ways – don’t get too excited, don’t be too proud, don’t brag, well of COURSE you did well, you’re YOU, etc.

Whether you’re a novice, or an old pro, disappointment is disappointment. For sure, what we DO with disappointment matters. We can use it to spur growth, or we can allow it to prevent us from moving forward. But when we are EXPERIENCING disappointment, it doesn’t matter what level we’re at, or whether or not somebody else would experience the same disappointment in the same situation. It’s real. And, if we’re discouraged from feeling those feelings of disappointment because they’re uncomfortable for others, who may not want to recognize those same feelings within themselves, nobody wins.

If we want to see more people share their failures and disappointments, we need to encourage that with our responses to those shared feelings.

Have you played the “at least” game with somebody who shared a disappointment with you?

I know I for sure have. And I also know how it makes me want to retreat further in to my own cave when I share a disappointment or something that makes me sad and I get the ‘at least’ response myself. So, at the very least, I can work on my end to never again use the ‘at least’ strategy on somebody else who comes to ME to share a disappointment, whether privately or in public 🙂

  • I’ve been musing on this since you posted it. Mostly because I’m seriously “at least”-ing a whole lot of circumstances (in my private thoughts) right now. And yes, it’s absolutely minimizing someone else’s troubles when you say “at least” to them. BUT… I think almost all of us are struggling in one way or another right now and being kind in both directions is essential. Someone saying or thinking “at least” may be in their own world of disappointment and pain. Maybe have a conversation and provide mutual support?
    Daisy, I had fun watching you and others run super fast amazing dogs at the UKI Open.

    • If somebody says “at least” to me when I share a disappointment, that is a red flag to me, and I will wander away. I am not likely to make the mistake of sharing my disappointments with that particular person again. It’s my mistake for having shared with that person in the first place; most of the time I make that mistake knowing full well that the person I’m sharing with is not capable of empathy. I just tend to repeatedly MAKE the mistake, somehow. 🙂 I have friends who are not capable of empathy in those situations, and relying upon them repeatedly to show empathy they’re not capable of is just madness on my part.
      On the other hand, I suspect the reason I repeatedly make that mistake is that being vulnerable and sharing with somebody in the hopes of receiving empathy is a bid for connection. Hearing “at least” is the opposite of connection, and by using those words, the person I’m attempting to connect with is letting me know loud and clear they are not capable of or desirous of such a connection.

  • Thanks so much Daisy. Love the Brene Brown piece and your perspective. Working through the disappointment of not living up to our own expectations is often the best way forward. (That and “at least” knowing how to surround ourselves with empathetic friends)

    • That’s a pretty important “at least” – how to know WHO you can share your disappointments with. Who of your friends can just help you sit with your disappointment? I have a pretty short list of friends, and those friends are invaluable. Of course my husband is on that list too!

  • I so appreciate you sharing this message Daisy. I do understand how you feel and yes, while we’ve all experienced disappointment, some how it FEELS BIGGER at National competitions, that we’ve looked forward to, trained towards and put in the time, blood, sweat and lots of tears to get there. I hope you feel how buoyed up you are and that we all are in this community. However, that doesn’t take away from the present moment feelings of where you are now. It is hard for everyone to be vulnerable and sit in a space of unpleasant feelings. I’m happy you had the courage to share.

  • Great discussion. I have definitely played the “at least” game, because I thought I was helping. But it makes sense that that only denies the person’s feelings which are very real. I am sorry that you are feeling disappointed. I completely understand. You reach for the stars and that is a vulnerable place to be, but it is also where all the brave people are. (“In the arena getting their asses kicked,” as Brene’ Brown would say.)

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