Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Disappointing Others

The stanza in the poem “The Invitation” that's raised the most questions is the one that asks if you can disappoint another to be true to yourself. Simple but not easy.

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.

Because, in the end we are just ourselves, and it's not healthy to be where being who we are is not enough for someone else. In turn, we each have to acknowledge and take back our expectations and consider what aspect of our unlived life is speaking to us (about us) through our own disappointments.


  1. Thank you for sharing. As ever your words inspire me and make me deeply thoughtful.

  2. So much to ponder...and to live. This is a fear I am right now confronting head-on and it is both terrifying and exhilerating.

    Thank you.

  3. This is what I have lived with for most of my almost 60 years... that of being a people pleaser... and it is what I was referring to last year when I spoke to you -- after an especially painful one of many passings -- of feeling "dry" creatively.

    In my grief, not only were the objects of my pleasing gone, I was left to face once again, my own worst enemy... myself. And it wasn't like this was unfamiliar territory... not at all. It's just that I was repeating history, experiencing huge self-disappointment.

    I'm doing better now, although it is understandably slow progress. But perhaps that is best, so that I absorb the information more effectively.

    I am so damn grateful for your sharing, Oriah.


  4. this has stuck a chord with me and i know i must pay attention so that i can move forward ... thank you ...

  5. One of my greatest challenges in teaching was learning to not want to be liked by my students. It came slowly, and perhaps it was coming to see the extent to which their desires wouldn't really give them what they needed that helped me to get there. I love the Lyle Lovett song in which he sings, "If I were the man that you wanted, I would not be the man that I am".

  6. Oriah, I am so grateful for your postings. I am going through similar issues trying to support my brother who is grieving due to the death of his partner of 25 years. As I try to support his own path of grieving, I find myself caught between patience and not loosing myself to his expectations of silence and not wanting to own his process or let anyone help or see it. Your postings have wonderfully mirrored my own process of "not taking it personally" and not taking on his expectations as my own or projecting mine onto him.

    Thank you for the support your writing provides!

  7. I'm 32 yrs old, have heard the following song a million times, but as I face bancruptcy, diversion in leiu of a duii, 17 days of sobriety, having not spoken to my father in nearly 6 mos, my 12 year old cat was diagnosed with heart disease this past weekend and has 6 mos to live, got stood up on a date by the same guy for the 3rd time this past weekend, and also tried talking to my so-called best friend about my feelings about where our relationship stood as of late and her intoxicated response, calling me a selfish effing B, well, my drama never ends -- these words ring so true to me, now more than ever:

    People say I'm crazy doing what I'm doing,
    Well they give me all kinds of warnings to save me from ruin,
    When I say that I'm o.k. they look at me kind of strange,
    Surely your not happy now you no longer play the game,

    People say I'm lazy dreaming my life away,
    Well they give me all kinds of advice designed to enlighten me,
    When I tell that I'm doing Fine watching shadows on the wall,
    Don't you miss the big time boy you're no longer on the ball?

    I'm just sitting here watching the wheels go round and round,
    I really love to watch them roll,
    No longer riding on the merry-go-round,
    I just had to let it go,

    People asking questions lost in confusion,
    Well I tell them there's no problem,
    Only solutions,
    Well they shake their heads and they look at me as if I've lost my mind,
    I tell them there's no hurry...
    I'm just sitting here doing time,

    I'm just sitting here watching the wheels go round and round,
    I really love to watch them roll,
    No longer riding on the merry-go-round,
    I just had to let it go.

    Thanks John!!!! And thank you Oriah for standing your ground, and being so humble all at once. You're still rocking my Wednesday mornings:)


    Nattie from Portland

  8. Oh yes. This stuff is so profoundly true and also one of the toughest lessons we ever have to learn. I'm currently disappointing many others by being unwell for an inconveniently long time.

    Separating who I am and the right to be true to my own life process, from what others expect from me can be really difficult and scary, and although I know in my head that certain people are merely projecting their own fears onto me, there are time when my heart just wants to cry,
    'This is so unfair. Will you please stop judging me?'

    Maybe though, I'm just as guilty of judging myself?

  9. what silly beings in re: those 2 emails. *shaking my head* ;)

    ANYway, thank you for sharing.

    What I am learning is that this 'disappointing others to be true to oneself' is not just reserved for those big decisions adds up through the very tiny ones too.

    much gratitude, always,


  10. Dear Oriah,
    I have had a wonderful teacher who often said, "What you see in other people that makes you uncomfortable is what you are afraid is reflected in yourself." So What disappoints other people in us is what disappoints them in themselves. I have pondered this often and am not always comfortable with accepting this view of myself. But I find it to be very accurate.

    My response today is maybe not for you but to answer my need after becoming aware of these responses to you and your work.

    When I needed help over the years I prayed. The Universe and the God that I love have been there to see me through. Often my answers have come in the form of knowledge, insight, life experiences, etc... that others have written/shared in books. I could have received it in no other way.

    Your books, your words, your website, you - may not have always been the answer for me. But I have been comforted, connected, and guided and I thank you for your courage to share your life with others. And I thank the Universe that allowed me this little glimps of loving soul.

    It would be wonderful if we each could accept the beauty that is in each of us with out comparing it to a standard.

    Stay grounded


    p.s. i post as anonymous because it is the only way that works on my computer.

  11. Oriah, by you simply sharing through your honesty and speaking from your heart, you continue to inspire and encourage me. Thank you for being you. And just as I am beginning to emerge and see some light out from the darkness following my husband's suicide three years ago, I have no doubt that what you are going through and experiencing right now is, in its very nature similar. God bless as you stay true to you.

  12. Earlier this week I found myself once again wondering when we would no longer need the concept of unconditional love, and what we did to ourselves to invent the idea in the first place.

    I've noticed not too many people talk about "conditional love" but there doesn't seem to be the same stigma around having expecations. In many instances the two are interchangeable in results.

  13. Nice post. I enjoy your insights.

  14. What a croc! LOL, everyone who responds here agrees with you, not exactly the real world is it?
    In life when people have been disappointed in me, sometimes it was a wake up call to set the bar in my higher. I love the line in the movie THE LION KING when Mufasa's ghost speaks to Simba at the water hole. Mufasa says 'You are more than what you have become'. There have been times in my life when people who were disappointed in me said such poignant things. I didn't change out of a need to please them or because I needed their love. I realized (eventually) they were right! The wise person knows which criticism/disappointments to ponder and learn from ... may we all grow to be wise :)

  15. I think you have a good point- sometimes people are disappointed in us because have not behaved well or aren't taking responsibility for our actions. But the blog was really about the times when we need to do something and don't because we are afraid of disappointing others- or the times when others' disappointments really don't have much to do with us. Thanks for the reminder that we sometimes disappoint others because we are living well below our potential- although I couldn't see why that point couldn't have been made without putting others' comments down by calling them (and the blog) "a croc." That kind of put down of others suggests that what they/I wrote cut a little too close to an uncomfortable truth.

  16. my name is victoria and i have been pleasing others since 1983....

    I have only recently decided to change that! I look at it like this: for 26 years i have been living through other peoples eyes and have gotten myself into a very very very (VERY!) deep hole filled with many expectations, constructs and boxes. (that I, as well as others put on myself) I suffer a lot with this..However On good days, i can handle it...i realize why it is so very difficult (and realizing always makes me feel better)... one: im changing a habit that is been overly developed and two: actually living with dissapointing others. all i can say is that living one day at a time really helps. also trusting yourself is about the best thing you can do.. and most importantly coming from a deep down place of love.... (and of course, this is all in my opinion..!)

    But OH! the immediate feelings of comfort of being accepted... but we must fight! for what is true to us.

    THANK YOU THANK YOU! oriah and everyone else! its great to be in touch with like minds :-)

  17. Anon 9:36: "There have been times in my life when people who were disappointed in me said such poignant things."

    Oriah: "Thanks for the reminder that we sometimes disappoint others because we are living well below our potential"

    I've been thinking about these points. I do have to wonder if 'disappointment' is the correct word when we see someone living below their potential. Frustration might be a better word? Or perplexity?

    Being disappointed in another's lower potential seems to come with some sort of attachment on my part to their living a fuller life. That circles back to something in me that is lacking or unlived.

    On the otherhand, if I am truly leading my best life then seeing someone else's potential becomes more a matter of "just is". I can choose to pass along what I see but have no attachment to their outcome and hence cannot be disappointed.

  18. Bah humbug :) There will always be Bah humbug peoples in the world..they are the robbers of joy of a life you have deserve to celebrate :)

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  20. I think you are right. I may notice and even feel curious or a little saddened to see someone not living what seems to me to be their potential. But if I feel a charge (anger, frustration etc.) it is probably because it mirrors some aspect of my own potential I am not utilizing.

  21. i love the poem the invitation i have had it torn out of a book i read probably ten years ago and it is taped to the inside of my desk. the only part i am iffy about is the faithless part. My faith is huge part of me but i am one of the most loyal people i know! I think that poem is a good guideline to acquiring good and lasting friendships!

  22. Brooke,

    I use the word "faithless" deliberately, because it is an uncomfortable word and it is and should be uncomfortable when we break a promise we have made to another, even when we feel we must do so to be true to our own soul. Things change, we change, our awareness changes- and sometime what we thought we could do becomes impossible or simply no longer good for us (and those around us. ) At some point I realized that I could truly trust those around me who were willing to be seen as "faithless" ie- those who would break an agreement with me or someone else if keeping the agreement meant risking damage to their own soul's journey (and of course I am no happier than anyone else when someone breaks an agreement or promise they have made.)

  23. It has only been in recent years that I have realised that when people say they are disappointed in you or something you have done, it is actually them projecting themselves onto you, and it's almost always associated with hurt of some kind. Understanding this helps me most of the time. If everyone is responsible for their own happiness, then why would anyone blame someone else for their disappointment? vicki :-)

  24. But you ARE fine, dear Oriah. You are sad, and scared. Angry and disappointed. You are just starting out on another adventure fraught with waves of emotions. We are complex beings capable of feeling many feelings at once; some even contra to each other, but I think it's you who taught me to trust that everything in this moment is exactly the way it's supposed to be. That idea of NOW being fine as it is... that I believe that on a gut level, and I have faith that where we are, with all the feelings going on, exactly where we have to be to learn what we have to learn, and get out of life what we came here to get. Follow your heart at all costs, and you will always be fine.
    You are so far from alone. I read your blog and thought it was a reprint or a fiction. It is so timely to my own story. When you moved to the wilderness, I had done the same, and now, I find its time to leave the woods. My marriage of 20 years has ended, and life is starting anew. So much learned, so much left to learn, but I am fine. I get angry. I cry. I laugh more, too. I feel.. and the more I feel... the more I have to accept all the feelings, because they're all connected.
    One thing is for sure, if anyone can pull off NOT FINE... it's you. You are honest and down to earth, and flawed like the rest of us. That's always been a big part of why I find it easy to connect to your writing. You aren't afraid of imperfect. Human is such a better condition to embrace, and the beauty in our imperfections is nothing short of stunning.
    So you are alone and not fine, but you are not alone and just fine. We are all great contradictions. Enjoy the journey.