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August 7th, 2020
Nothing goes perfectly, and things are always going wrong. An obvious platitude to be sure, but the next step in the story is the crucial one, often so poorly addressed: how do we respond to a continual onslaught of disappointment and attempts by fate to shove us off balance. Do we fall down? Tempted by stagnant comfort, or do we go through the extra effort of standing back up again?
Beyond any skill, whether it be writing, or coding, painting, people management, finance management, or picking the right stock out of the sky, the ability to navigate the disappointment is the primary skill that reins above and rules them all. Because no matter how skilled you are in all that you do, the universe is constantly tapping its fingers together around the next corner, giggling quietly and waiting for that perfect moment to stick a foot out and trip you up. It’s going to happen, and it’s best to expect it optimistically.
How on earth does a person expect disappointment optimistically?
Is this not a concept of pure nonsense? No. Because disappointment is an opportunity. Opportunity for what? To navigate that disappointment - to get better at the one skill that improves all the others: to pivot and dance with the fickle will and whim of the universe.
We can dive in a little deeper and examine disappointment in relation to the nature of our plans. Why do we plan anything? Why do we do anything really?
Each and every action can be described as an attempted solution to some sort of problem. You scratch your forearm to solve the problem of an itch, you start a business to solve the problem of wanting a better life, or even better, you start a business to solve the issue of living in a world without the solution your business offers. You eat to solve the problem of hunger, you socialize to solve loneliness, among other things. You learned to code to solve the problem of your inability to build what you want to see in the world.
The point here isn’t to merely define life in terms of problems and solutions, but to merely point out that it can be done. And the purpose is to highlight that our skills all boil down to this one higher level skill: problem solving. Every large endeavour, wish or problem resolves into a net of tiny easy problems.
But we can get hung up on these easy problems, due to the emotional resonance of disappointment. We can stew for hours and days, cursing our luck and wondering how we are going to move forward. How strange is it that when we finally do figure out to move forward, we rarely reflect on that troublesome time of cursing our luck? Is it not possible to analyze the uselessness of that period and project it forward and think: well the next time some sort of disappointment comes along, perhaps I should remember that it’s probably not as bad as I think?
Follow this line of questioning far enough, and one starts to wonder if this refractory period initiated by disappointment is itself a kink in the process to be solved. Spoiler alert: of course it is. The more effortlessly we can glide through the emotions that pop up as a response to disappointment, the faster we can honour our original vision and our ongoing intention to make something happen. Once this issue has been identified as a solvable problem, we start looking out for it, and that ugly experience suddenly starts looking like..