Someone dear to me recently experienced a devastating disappointment, and I’m in sympathetic pain. It brings back memories of my own disappointments and rejections over the years. I’m struck by how awful they can be, how utterly they dominate our lives for a time. They are a physical reality, and must, like a disease, run their course.
Disappointments blot out the light. The memory of them wakes you at night and won’t let you sleep. When you manage to distract yourself, thoughts dart back and drag you down with their weight. Occasional hopeful fantasies tease you—did they send the wrong letter?—and when they pass on leave a reality even bleaker than before.
You can’t escape the misery and the anger. Only time enables you to pass on, and time is very slow. As Auden: “Time will only tell you I told you so.”
Here’s something worth mulling over. We are seldom seriously disappointed with ourselves. We only really suffer when some outside authority afflicts us. Real disappointment comes from external sources, not from within.
Writers agonize after they get rejected by a publisher, not after they read their own work and realize it is sloppy.
Men and women wonder whether they can ever find happiness in love after they get dumped or divorced—not because they are chagrined to realize how selfishly they act toward their beloved.
Athletes are dejected after a loss—not after a win in which they played poorly.
Students are devastated after they get rejected by the college of their choice—not after they skate through even while knowing their own academic failings.
I’m not saying that failure and rejection are always good for you. They are often unfair and may be personally devastating.
I am saying that we must have failure and rejection as part of our lives, or we will never take our shortcomings seriously. We are not naturally serious. Failure and rejection force us to be. They make us see how much we have at stake in the quality of what we do.