We’ve all heard the phrase. In fact, as soon as the words “I’m not angry…” escape from anyone’s lips, you most often find your legs violently propelling you in the opposite direction, or at the very least, suddenly discover something ridiculously interesting on the end of your big toe.
No matter how old I am, I would much rather my parents be angry with me than disappointed. In fact, I’d prefer anyone be the former over the latter.
It goes both ways though; I would rather be angry at someone because rage really blocks out any other kind of emotion. You just see red, flatly refuse to speak to the culprit and feel somewhat better by ranting to your friends (or innocent bystanders) about why you’re so mad – it’s all about you and how you feel.
But when you’re disappointed? It’s about them. You’re disappointed because you had such high hopes for someone and they let you down. You want to shake that person senseless, but also fold them in a bear hug and explain to them that you had faith in them. You trusted them. You care for them so much that their actions kind of make you want to throw up a bit. That feeling of disappointment is so great it can consume you, and often lingers much longer than any feeling of anger ever could.
But there’s one scenario that takes the cake; the one situation that fills your stomach with pure dread, like you swallowed a lead balloon and it has no plans what-so-ever to budge from your intestines anytime soon.
“No,” you exclaim, “there couldn’t be anything worse than someone being disappointed with you!”
I’m afraid so my friend; I’m afraid so. But what is it?
Being disappointed with yourself.
I don’t know about you, but from my experience being disappointed with yourself is a feeling that follows you like a bad smell long after your parents’ or peers’ disappointment has diluted.
At least if I’m disappointed with someone else, they were the ones in control of their actions. I couldn’t have changed a thing, and that’s that. But when you let yourself down? You were the one with the power and you didn’t use it to the best of your ability. Heck, sometimes you didn’t use it at all.
I’m haunted by thoughts of “what if” and “I should have just bloody done it!“. In fact, times I’ve disappointed myself still creep back into my mind many years later. Take my Year 12 exams for example; I was a smart kid, but come my final year of high school, I was a little tired of working so hard for so long. I was 18 and, whilst school was still extremely important to me, I was just as focussed on going out on the weekends, and having a cheeky drink (or five) and fun with my friends.
The cold hard truth is that I didn’t study anywhere near as much as I should have, or was capable of, but laziness was only one aspect of why I didn’t. There were a lot of expectations on me to do well; from my parents and teachers, and from myself. I was worried that I couldn’t live up to those expectations. What if I studied my backside off and still didn’t do very well? What if I let everyone down?
In the end, I really only let myself down. I didn’t do the work I should have and while I got a good mark, I knew I could have done much better. I thought it would be easier to know I could have achieved more if I had put the work in, rather than to do my best and realise I still wasn’t good enough.
I tell you what though – I thought wrong.
The day our results came out, my parents were thrilled. Most of my teachers were just as happy. And yeah, I was pretty stoked too. But then one of my favourite teachers, who I had and still have a lot of respect for, said to me “You could have done better“. I wasn’t surprised, but his comment still stung like hell.
Wondering what you could have achieved is so much more damaging than accepting your best wasn’t quite what you expected. Knowing you reached your potential closes that chapter and lets your move onto the next. Instead, I’ve thought numerous times over the years “I wonder what my marks would be like if I redid my final year?”
While I like to believe regrets aren’t worth time worrying about, I can’t say I don’t have a number of them; namely times in my life when I could have achieved more if I had have put in a little more effort. But realising I’ve only got myself to blame for the places I don’t go, the things I don’t do and the goals I don’t kick has really put my gearstick into drive. I’ve spoken about this before, and it may have taken 26 years to work out, but I’ve finally accepted that if I want certain things to happen in my life, I have to take that control and make every second count.
Do I want to look back on my life when I’m almost 100 and feel nothing but regret for what I didn’t do? Or laugh at how many times I stuffed up and give myself a pat on the back for at least trying? Which moments will you remember back on most fondly in life?
Next time an opportunity arises, I’m going to ignore that small voice in my head that chants “You’re not good enough to do that”. I’m going to be the best version of myself. Starting now.