Michael K. Shaub, March 31st, 2010
A couple of weeks ago, optimistic Aggies were brimming with confidence about our basketball teams. And then it happened: the men lost 63-61 in overtime. Then the women lost 72-71. Bummer.
It was probably good for me to wait a week to write this column, because the emotions of disappointment tend to warp my perspective of what has happened in an entire process by focusing on the final outcome. I would be lying to say that I was angry after either loss; there was just a nagging sense of an opportunity missed, particularly by the women. I stepped off a plane from Nashville to see the Gonzaga score staring at me from the TV screen. It was late at night, and I still had close to two hours to drive home.
But perhaps the drive allowed me to begin processing what was going on inside. Disappointment arises because we have expectations, and we generally have expectations because we are experiencing success at some level. So disappointment is not just for the perennially downtrodden. It is a fact of life for those doing best among us. It occurs to me that there are three basic steps that I ought to take when I am disappointed.
The first is to listen. My tendency when I am disappointed is to ignore others’ explanations for what happened and to meditate on my grievances against those who disappointed me. I also have no desire to hear from those on the other side. But sometimes there is something to be learned. If you are going to read opposing fans’ blogs, you might want to skip the comments from “aggiehater” or some other aptly named participant. But as hard as it is, read the column recapping the game. Listen to at least a little critical analysis of why your candidate or cause lost an election. Ask your professor what might have gone wrong in your preparation, and then think about what you hear in response.
The second step for me is to be quiet. I sometimes listen to what people have to say, but I am quick to correct their mistaken assumptions about why I fell short of my goal. The tough thing to do is to sit still without squirming and to be willing not to respond. Being right and making clear why others are wrong seems like a fundamental right; just listen to talk radio. But if I am going to speak, it ought to be just to make sure that I understand what the other person is saying. There will be plenty of time to get things fixed if they are wrong.
Finally, I need to lower the temperature, and the best way I have found to do that is to laugh. It is so important for me to laugh on a regular basis, and the most critical time of all to do it is when the bottom is falling out. I have a friend or two with whom I can be almost completely honest. They know me well. They empathize, but they will not lie to me and tell me that I am better than I am. When I explain a disappointing situation to them, it almost always results in self-deprecating humor, with me being able to see my fallibility clearly enough to mock it. And the healing begins when I am able to laugh at myself.
So listen, be quiet, and lower the temperature. A week later you will feel perfectly comfortable saying, “Congratulations, men’s and women’s teams—we are really proud of you!”