Young People Ask . . .
How Can I Prevent Disappointment?
‘ALL I do is study for tests,’ says Kenny. ‘It’s always constant pressure, and my parents are on my back every minute.’ Worse than the pressure to succeed, however, is the disappointment of failure. As 12-year-old Debbie put it: “If I fail a test, that’s enough to make me cry.”
But failing in a test is not likely to be your first—nor last—big disappointment. You may, for example, try to express an intelligent opinion and get brushed off as a “kid” by an adult. You may want that stylish outfit all the others in school are wearing and have your folks tell you they just can’t afford it.
Nothing, however, brings out the best (or worst) in you quite like a big letdown. Disappointment can thus be the crucible from which strength of Christian personality is forged. Still, when you have been ‘shot down in flames,’ it’s hard to be so philosophical about it. The Bible says that “expectation postponed is making the heart sick.” (Proverbs 13:12) And when expectation doesn’t get fulfilled at all, your morale and self-confidence can plunge.
Take, for example, King Ahab of ancient Israel. Near his house was a vineyard he wanted to convert into a garden. Approaching the owner, he said: “Do give me your vineyard . . . and let me give you in place of it a vineyard better than it. Or if it is good in your eyes, I will give you money as the price of this.” The owner replied: “It is unthinkable on my part, from Jehovah’s standpoint, for me to give the hereditary possession of my forefathers to you.” Land in Israel, you see, was viewed as a sacred inheritance from God. It was not to be sold permanently.—See Leviticus 25:23-28.
But the king was apparently so used to having his whims catered to that when he couldn’t get his way, he “came into his house, sullen and dejected.” Childishly, he “lay down upon his couch and kept his face turned, and he did not eat bread.”—1 Kings 21:1-4.
While Ahab’s style of “coping” is obviously not the best, some disappointment is inevitable for all of us. Nevertheless, with a little foresight you can prevent some letdowns from happening in the first place! How?
Setting Your Sights Too High
Disappointment is often not so much a matter of “expectation postponed,” as expectations too high. Now at times it is good to have high goals, to “aim for the stars.” But always expecting to come out on top is a surefire way to beckon disappointment. “Time and unforeseen occurrence” take their toll on the best of us. (Ecclesiastes 9:11) Solomon further said that “wisdom is with the modest ones.” (Proverbs 11:2) A modest person is often saved the pain of failure because he knows his limitations. He sets modest, realistic goals.
For example, getting a job may be a good goal. But in today’s crowded job market, it pays to be willing to take the less popular jobs. One youth, unable to find regular employment, took the initiative to cut lawns and shovel snow. True, he still says, “I wish I had a real job!” But the money he makes is quite real, and the experience, invaluable.
What about your wardrobe? Some youths insist on having only certain brand names or the very latest styles. But do you really have to be clad from head to toe with designer clothing to be neatly dressed? So why fret if your parents cannot afford to pay extravagant prices for your clothes? By shopping prudently, you can still dress reasonably well and at the same time spare yourself—and your folks—a lot of vexation.
One youth, named Paul, points to another common disappointment. “Sometimes when you start talking to an adult,” he says, “it’s like talking to a wall.” You, too, may understandably feel let down when adults—especially your parents—seem not to take you seriously. True, sometimes parents fail to listen. They allow a communication gap to develop. But do you always pay attention to them? Could there be a mutual failing here?
The Bible describes a man named Timothy, probably in his early 30’s, who was told, “Let no man ever look down on your youth.” Even at his age it did not mean he could automatically demand the respect of older people. He had to “become an example to the faithful ones in speaking, in conduct, in love, in faith, in chasteness.” (1 Timothy 4:12) But he could earn it by following Paul’s counsel. So recognize where you are in life and work at developing sound judgment and good conduct. The esteem of adults will naturally follow.
“. . . Before a Crash”
Proverbs 16:18 says: “Pride is before a crash, and a haughty spirit before stumbling.” Youths, however, often invite bitter disappointment by fiercely striving to excel academically or athletically. The thought of being “No. 1” is a real ego boost for some.
But Dr. James P. Comer observes that young teens “are very likely to equate a good performance with being a worthwhile human being. This misconception can lead to arrogance, or to frustration, or to other troublesome attitudes.” One teenage girl, for example, was a straight-A student. Soon, however, she tired of the cutthroat competition for grades in her school. No longer motivated to learn, she began getting mediocre and even failing grades. Apparently, the fear of failing was just too much for her. But could she not have spared herself a lot of pain by striving to learn, rather than driving herself to outshine others?
Competition in sports can have similar consequences. Gary was an enthusiastic competitor in American football and soccer and even dreamed of a professional career in sports. Says he: “I followed the standard set by my father and brothers. Dad was the number one salesman for his company and just could not face failure. My brothers, too, were superb athletes. Brainwashed by my coaches into thinking I could be better than them, I, too, developed an obsession to be ‘No. 1.’” Full of prideful expectations, Gary crashed into reality. Even with the best of training it is difficult, if not impossible, really to be “No. 1.” And how disappointed he was to learn that athletics were not all glory and adulation! Crippling injuries, violence, sexual immorality and even drugs were also a part of this way of life. Gary also observed how the competitive spirit crept into some athletes’ marriages, causing marital tensions. And what a letdown to learn that only a few hundred out of many thousands of talented athletes are actually able to make a living from their work. So Gary made a tough decision: He quit competitive sports. Gary still enjoys sports but now feels they “are only a game and should be treated as such.”
The Bible counsels: “Let us not become egotistical, stirring up competition with one another, envying one another.” (Galatians 5:26) Unbridled competition only brings out the very worst in people. Granted, it feels great to be “No. 1” at something. But it also can be an accomplishment to be in the top 10 or even the top 100 for that matter. Solomon further said: “And I myself have seen all the hard work and all the proficiency in work, that it means the rivalry of one toward another; this also is vanity and a striving after the wind.”—Ecclesiastes 4:4.
Of course, some disappointment is unavoidable. How to cope with it is the subject of a future article.
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Young teens “are very likely to equate a good performance with being a worthwhile human being. This misconception can lead to arrogance, or to frustration, or to other troublesome attitudes.”—Dr. J. P. Comer
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Be willing to perform humble tasks
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Fierce competition often leads to bitter disappointment