When you don’t get what you want

“The problem is not in the wanting; the problem is what happens when you don’t get what you want.” – Ciprian Iancu

Dealing with disappointment is a challenge for many of us. In our culture, we’re trained to think we can get whatever we want, and moreover that we “should” get it. Even that we’re entitled to it. Unfortunately, this type of thinking leaves us blaming ourselves (or looking for someone else to blame) when things in life don’t turn out the way we want.

The reality is that so many things are out of our control.

I recently watched The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, and this quote stood out to me: “The measure of success is how you deal with disappointments.” There’s a lot of wisdom in that sentence.

So often we think of success in terms of achievement: we get what we want, we’re successful (and conversely, when we don’t get what we want, well, then we’re just a failure).

But looking at life in binary terms like that just doesn’t work.

On some level, yes, it’s good to take charge. To set goals and work diligently to achieve them is admirable. But, if we become so focused on achievement that we fall apart when we fail to achieve a victory according to our own narrow definition, well, that is a problem indeed.

Likewise, if we can only be happy when our lives, and the people in them, conform to our expectations, we may find ourselves drowning in unhappiness.

Sometimes, for reasons beyond our control, we just don’t get what we want, despite our best efforts.

And then what?

How do we cope with the disappointment? Do we allow it to make us bitter? Do we stop trying anything altogether, asking “What’s the use?” while shrugging our shoulders?

Or do we view it as an opportunity to change directions, to refocus? As a new beginning?

In any life, there are going to be disappointments. And bad days. And certainly there will be a “worst” day. But, it doesn’t matter so much what happens on the bad days, or even on the worst day.

What matters most is what you do on the day after. And the day after that.


“I am crowded inside.” – Pradeep Venugopal

We are, all of us, crowded inside. Echoes from the past. Experiences of the present. Dreams of the future. And the tape loop of all of our thoughts and fears. Myriad possibilities, co-existing.

And sometimes, a cacophony of competing voices.

The challenge is to resist the urge to smother some of the voices. And rather to create a space for different and sometimes even opposing ideas to co-exist. Life is messy, and our desires sometimes contradictory.

No, I’m not talking about some kind of Orwellian doublespeak.

But rather I’m pointing out that all of us have conflicting needs, and sometimes the space between who we’d like to be and who we really are is wide. To accept that this is the case, and simply be with it, while challenging, moves us in the direction of self-acceptance and growth.

Knowing ourselves means becoming acquainted with our own voices, especially the ones that tell us things that we don’t want to hear, or things we’d rather not admit to ourselves.

We have inside of us our own wisdom and power, if we are patient enough to learn to access it.

What if you already know the answers to the questions you are asking?

And if you connect to your own wisdom, and your own power, what happens next?

Inquire within.

A Sense of Purpose

I recently heard author Dan Buettner speak on the topic of longevity. He made two key points. One is that at least 20% of people don’t have 3 close friends: the lack of close friends is a significant health risk. The other is about the importance of having a sense of purpose in life: people with a sense of purpose live longer. It seems like isolation (sometimes increased by technology) and lack of purpose together constitute a lethal combination.

One of the things that surprises me when I talk to people is how many of them don’t have a strong sense of why they’re here, or what they want to accomplish. I wonder if retirement might be related to losing a sense a purpose: Buettner said the year you retire is the year you’re most likely to die, probably because so many of us rely on our jobs for a sense of identity and purpose.

No matter what your age, identifying (and living) your purpose is crucial to achieving a deeper sense of satisfaction in your life. Buettner spent a lot of time studying various groups around the world in places where people are living 100+ years. He noticed that they all had various things in common. I could list them here, but it’s more to the point to say that several major differences have to do with community and social structure. In other words, the centenarians in these populations had a sense of being useful. They had a purpose.

Buettner says that identifying your talent or skill area, and then finding an outlet for it, is what leads to a sense of purpose in life. I think a lot of people know where they excel, but the challenge can be finding an outlet for it. It often requires creative thinking. One of my favorite books for identifying and living your purpose is Mira Kirshenbaum’s The Gift of a Year. She says, “Knowing what you want and translating it into something doable is a better route to happiness than denying what you really want because it seems impossible in its purest form.” In other words, make your desires doable by taking one small step that brings you closer to what you want.

One of the most amazing trips you’ll ever take is the journey of self-discovery. Inquire within.

On Storytelling

I’ve been thinking about storytelling since I watched Life of Pi. (Yes, I hear the collective sigh from my former English teachers.) As several wise persons have noted, it’s not so much what happens to us in life, but our response to what happens to us, that reveals our character. And much of how we respond to what happens to us has to do with the stories that we tell ourselves, and others, about the events our lives.

If two stories have the same events, and the same ending, which is true? This is the question in Life of Pi. And the answer: the one you like better is the one that’s true.

There’s a great deal of wisdom in that observation. While we can’t go back and change the past, we can change the lens, change our focus, and thereby also change our understanding and attitude about the things that happen to us.  Our beliefs shape the world and vice versa. The world shapes us, and we also shape the world. What we see we believe. And what we believe we live, and relive, over and over.

Every problem and every difficulty, when turned around, is an opportunity to learn and grow. The question is, do we allow our challenges to dictate our attitudes? Our treatment of others? Our goals and aspirations?

Often we get comfortable with familiar stories. Stock characters. Stories of good and evil. But real life is rarely so black and white. We all have within us capacity for great kindness and great cruelty. Whichever aspects of our consciousness manifest in our behavior is a direct result of the choices we make – the little choices – day in and day out.

Whether you grow your capacity for kindness is up to you.…because what you think upon grows.

Good Fences

I’ve been re-reading Anne Katherine’s book Boundaries: Where You End and I Begin. Interpersonal boundaries, be they physical or emotional, when clearly communicated, can eliminate a great deal of confusion. It is, as they say, true that “good fences make good neighbors.”

But what about when boundaries are lacking? Without some way of determining who we allow to get close, and how close, chaos abounds. Other people can do and say what they like if we don’t believe we have the power to set limits. Gradually, we might come to feel like our lives don’t belong to us.

At the core of building healthy boundaries is discovering the difference between “me” and “not me.”

Sounds simple enough, right?

But is it really? Many of us have had the ideas and “shoulds” of parents and other adult figures thrust upon us at an early age. From that perspective sorting out what’s ours and what’s theirs may not be such an easy proposition.

Building (or repairing) our fences necessitates important, and sometimes uncomfortable, conversations. The good news is that having such conversations can build true intimacy. If we are equal to the challenge, we can negotiate our needs in personal and professional relationships to allow for more satisfying interactions.

Photo by Virginia Olson  © 2012