Being disappointing

March 3, 2014

If I’m honest, my biggest fear is being disappointing.

I feel it every time I meet someone new and they say, “Oh, you’re THAT Allie! I’ve heard so much about [fill in the blank].”

I feel it every time my husband comes home from work and I tell him that I’m feeling exhausted or depleted or overextended and he suggests that we cancel whatever we have planned that evening and I respond, “Oh, no, we need to go, it’ll be fine, let’s get going.”

I feel it every time I make dinner for a group or host a party or plan a getaway or decorate something or design something or write something or create something.

I’m afraid I won’t live up to the hype. Won’t meet (and exceed) expectations. Won’t up the ante, raise the bar, outdo whatever I did the last time.

I want to change everyone’s story. If your story is that everyone leaves, I want to be the one who doesn’t. If your story is that everyone is thoughtless, I want to be the one who’s thoughtful. If your story is that everyone takes advantage, I want to be the one who’s appreciative and generous. If your story is that everyone’s flaky, I want to be the one who’s dependable. If your story is that people are unsafe, I want to be the one who’s a refuge.

I want to be the one who’s never disappointing. So I do everything I can to make sure I’m not. I always show up, always step up, always check in, always come alongside. I write back, I remember, I offer, I accommodate. I make sure that when I ask myself is this enough? the answer can always be at least it’s everything I have.

But what happens when that falls apart? When my capacity — my everything I have in me — is fundamentally less than it was before? When always becomes usually, and then usually becomes sometimes?

If you’re in relationship with me, I’ve probably disappointed you lately. If not in the five months that I’ve been pregnant, certainly in the 16 months since I lost my dad. And if not yet, then soon. I won’t answer your email, respond to your text, or return your phone call. I won’t check in with you even though you told me about that big thing you had coming up this week. I won’t offer to help, or I’ll fail to anticipate needs, or I’ll neglect to follow through. I’ll show up to your party with a bag of chips and a box of Oreos instead of homemade crostini and tartlets. In fact, I might not even show up to your party at all. I won’t make you feel special or cared for. Your birthday gift won’t be terribly thoughtful, or I’ll cancel our lunch date at the last minute and for the third time in a row, or I’ll miraculously show up for our lunch date but with absolutely nothing to offer.

I will be one more person who abandons you, who’s inconsiderate, who’s unreliable, who’s inconsistent. I will be one more person who disappoints you.

This, obviously, will not be very much fun for anyone. You will be hurt, and I will feel crushingly inadequate. I will want to make it up to you but will probably fail to do that too. I will start to think of myself as one of those EGR people — extra grace required.

But in this season of being disappointing — or perhaps learning how to be okay with being disappointing — I believe that there will be good things too. When I disappoint you, maybe it will create space for you to discover something in yourself, or in another person, that you didn’t see before. When I disappoint you, maybe it will challenge both of us to stop striving to do things in our own strength. When I disappoint you, maybe I’ll have to learn how to trust in your love for me — to receive your grace, your lowered expectations, and your acceptance of me based not on what I do but on who I am.

So, take note: I will be disappointing. Either it’s already happened, or it’s happening now, or it will happen. I love you, I am for you, I have deep affection for you — but I will disappoint you. And it’s okay. Because as long as I’m not disappointing, I’m only learning things I already know. When I’m not disappointing, I’m learning how to show love and grace — but when I am disappointing, I’m learning how to be shown love and grace.

Of course, I never want to stop practicing love and grace toward others; I still fail, constantly, to do so and to do it well. But I can only give what I myself have learned to receive. More accurately, I need to learn that anything I’m capable of giving I have already received. I need eyes to see. And the only way I can get there is by being disappointing.

“For who sees anything different in you? What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it?” (1 Cor 4:7)

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  1. I think you might be a little hard on yourself but I love the lesson you’re learning. You give to everyone. Receiving is hard. But I’m Glad you’re learning. And PS I think you are amazing for a million different reasons.

  2. Allie, This speaks deeply to my soul. THank you for putting into words what is true in me as well. Being inadequate is my great fear- not being amazing. Yet the quest to amazingness is a kind of peace stealing striving.

  3. Awesome blog post. I couldn’t have said it better myself. One of my online writing courses started yesterday and I still can’t get 8 of the students in because the technology has gone wonky on me. A couple of years ago I’d be crying by now – just fretting that those 8 were angry at me, wanted their money back and had realized that I was a fraud. Today, it’s still #1 on my mind, but I can breath, I can have my lunch, make another cup of coffee. We’ll deal. No one has died. We do our best. Loved your post!

  4. I say we can ALL relate to this wonderful , brave piece .You write so beautifully :)
    Cheers Helen

  5. Allie,
    What a wonderful post! I, too, wanted (and still want, sometimes) to change everyone’s story – to be the one who does not disappoint. How freeing to know that disappointment in human relationships is inevitable – WHEN I disappoint you, not IF I disappoint you and that in doing so we are learning love and grace, which is as far from disappointing as it gets!

  6. I heard the wonderful Elizabeth Gilbert speak yesterday and she said something wonderful about women and disappointment – ‘Women have a tremendous susceptibility to disappointment. But we don’t die from it. Through a wonderful alchemy we transform it into wisdom, humility and grace.’ I thought you might enjoy that!

  7. …O..K… so you’ve been spying on me, and reading my thoughts. Or are we just incredibly simpatico even though we live on opposite sides of the ocean and have never met? Or … we are human.
    Thanks for reminding me. I once spent 8 hours trying to fashion a projector screen for a very important presentation out of tablecloths and bulldog clips. It didn’t work. I left devastated at having disappointed my boss. As I sobbed my way home in the car, knowing my husband had been alone all night caring for our two very sick toddlers, I was devastated. My boss was about to arrive at the presentation venue to see that the very best I could provide for his very important projected pitch was three stained tablecloths hanging between ceiling fans.
    And then a song came on the radio with the chorus – ” You are God and I am not ..” It broke me. I had to realise I had nothing left of myself to give. That was Day 1 for me of understanding my limitations and knowing that I CAN’T be all things to all people. I forgave myself for being human.
    My sick babies had slept peacefully all night.
    God did His thing and cared for them despite me being human. And the very important projected pitch? The intern stood in a white Tshirt, arms out and projected upon. BRILLIANT !! And SO creative !!
    God did His thing. I was left in my humanity to humbly accept my inadequacy. And my God and my boss both knew my heart was FOR them, even though I disappointed. I survived .

  8. I love this post Allie. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how you can give more and better, if you take care of yourself first. If you haven’t been doing that for a while, you’re bound to have an uncomfortable period where you say “no” to others while you say “yes” to your own needs—and your post speaks perfectly to the way it feels to be a giving person in that uncomfortable period. Cheers!

  9. This is so awesome, Allie. Thank you for sharing this. It’s such a holistic, humble perspective. I’m so glad to know you and be connected with your work.

  10. Oh, my dear. It’s like you took the words out of my soul. I, too, want to change everyone’s story. And it is my lesson of late, that I am worthy, that I can receive, just as I am, disappointing, imperfect, and all.

    I love the reminder that disappointment is inevitable. Also, it makes me think .. if I can’t forgive myself for disappointing someone else, then I probably can’t forgive someone else for disappointing me, even if I think I can/have.

    You have reminded me, again, how delighted + honored I am to know you. Thank you for sharing this, for sharing you.

  11. Hi there,
    Synchronicity brought me here. As my site’s in need of a massive overhaul, I came over to check out your portfolio and design offers and to browse gently through your beautiful site; but then I found this heartwarming post.

    I just wanted to empathise and wish you well through your pregnancy and the time after. My mum died when I was pregnant with my son, and I’ve found that the combination of grief and birth has no expiry date; it just recycles in a myriad ways, many of them empowering. At the beginning, it gave me the strength to say, in various polite and often weeping ways, to myself and others, “I’ve lost the only person who was never disappointed in me; I’m a motherless child who’s just created an entire human being, one who contains the potential of the entire universe, yet depends on me. So give me a break. I’m recalibrating.” My husband had to warn people never to mention doors closing and windows opening.

    I guess what I’m trying to say is that recalibrating is life; disappointment – in others and with ourselves – is just what happens when change sneaks up on us, when our expectations, and habitual thoughts get out of synch with what is – the state of our bodies, our operating systems, our relationships and the bigger world out there. It’s good that we disappoint people, because that means there are people we’re connected with. If we never engage, if we stay unconnected, no-one expects anything, so we never disappoint. And you’re right; if people are disappointed by us, it’s a gift for them, a chance to recalibrate their own expectations, to investigate and take responsibility for their feelings. We can only do our best with what we have at the time. And that’s enough.

    My daughter’s at uni, and that baby boy’s a 6’2” young man now. I recently logged back on after 3 years offline and am happily obsessed, getting back up to speed and loving learning. He’s no doubt disappointed by the lack of food in the cupboards and meals no longer made on time. But I just smile and tell him I’m reconfiguring. If he doesn’t mind waiting while his computer’s doing it, then it should be OK for me to do it ,too.

    Thank you for the pleasure your site has already brought me. You radiate heart and joyful living through all your pages. I wish you all kinds of blessings.

  12. Pingback: The care and feeding of your new-mom friend — Allie Creative

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