Last week I received an email from a man who said the poem had been helpful to him during his (happily successful) battle with cancer. He was writing however, not to thank me, but to berate me for doing what he saw as turning the poem into “an industry.” (I assume he meant writing books, having a website and teaching etc.) Of course, he did not realize I had done all of these things for many years before the poem had been written and shared, and he had not read any of the books. Still he told me that “Oprah would be proud,” and he was “disappointed.”
The week before, a woman in Australia also named Oriah emailed. When I responded with a couple of comments about how I came to have the name she replied that she had already read this information on my website and was “disappointed” that I had only given what she assumed was a cut and paste reply.
Assuming we are not living in a hermitage, disappointing the expectations of others is something we all experience. Others- spouses, off-spring, co-workers, neighbours, friends and family- can and will have ideas about who we are and what we should or shouldn’t do. An even slightly more public life expands the opportunity for expectations and inevitable disappointments. I find it useful to notice my reactions to the disappointment of those who only know me through my work in the world, if I want to get a sense of how I am affected by the disappointments of those who are closer to me.
My first response to the above emails was a kind of who-the-hell-do-you-think-you-are moment. Then, after I calmed down, I realized (of course) that their disappointments, like their expectations, are theirs and have little or nothing to do with me.
But I don’t want to dismiss how difficult it can be to disappoint others. Because developing the willingness and ability to disappoint others (not deliberately but just by being ourselves) is really a key factor if we are to have any hope of living true to our deepest selves. If I try endlessly to keep everyone else happy (ie- fulfilling their expectations of me) I will truly not be able to tell what my body, heart, mind and soul need or desire.
I have no magic formula for being able to disappoint others to be true to ourselves, but a crucial first step is to bring to consciousness our own fears about and difficulties with disappointing others. Do we feel we have to avoid disappointing others to earn love, and our place on the planet? (Two things that cannot and do not have to be earned.) If these fears are running us unconsciously it will be pretty hard to counteract them. If, on the other hand, we have some awareness of how hard it is to disappoint others, we can watch for that twinge of guilt or rage or fear and keep walking toward what calls us anyway.
When the people we love are disappointed in us it is harder than it is with relative strangers. As Jeff and I separate I am aware of how disappointed we each have been in the other and are in ourselves. I have failed to be who he thought, hoped, and believed I was. Some of this has nothing to do with me. His thoughts, hopes and beliefs were his, based on his needs, his projections, his unlived life. (Just as my thoughts, hopes and beliefs about him are mine.) But, of course, when we love another we cannot help but ache when the other is hurt and even, sometimes, wish (or try) to be who they want and think they need us to be. It just doesn’t work.