…all the good things, and the bad things, that may be…
It finally happened! I set a goal. I worked toward it. And, over a month ago, I found myself standing on that infamous red-circle-of-a-rug on a TEDx stage. But I’m still struggling to understand what to make of my experience.
So this post is about disappointment.
An experience of disappointment necessarily entails a psychic and emotional investment in what could have been but turned out not to be. There’s anticipation, expectation, and excitement. In this particular case, my investment in a TEDx experience was pretty significant because it stretched way back — months, even years — to all of the times I had ever felt angsty about doing philosophy.
About this time last year, I was entering a six-month spell of jobless, post-grad school floundering and was feeling a lot of things. I wrote about being a failure, but really, I was just as determined as I was terrified to figure out how I could continue to do philosophy in meaningful ways. I wrote, “I still want and plan to teach. I still want and plan to write. I still want and plan to read. And I still want to live and breathe and enact and practice philosophy as I have been over the past five years – with passion, with pleasure, and with practical applications that help people live better.”
What few people know is that, in the midst of that floundering, I literally made TED a goal. In light of my hopes and dreams for how I might continue to do philosophy, I set up my own philosophical practice, I started seeing clients, and I used this as a reason to start regularly meeting with a small-business consultant. I told her about also wanting to do speaking engagements, and she held me accountable to all of my goals. By the time January arrived, I started a new job (where I can teach and read and write) and I got the notification from the TEDx organizers that my submission had been accepted!
All in all, things seemed to be working out splendidly!
The funny thing about life, though, I guess, is that it’s more complex than that. When life happens, that typically means that a lot of things happen. And they can happen all at once.
Over the next five months until the TEDx event, a lot of good, not so good, neutral, and bad things happened. Some of these good, not so good, neutral, and bad things were big and rather unexpected. The rest were just the mundane things that typically fill out all of our everyday lives. But the month of May, it seemed, was slated to be an especially difficult, trying month full of many, many things.
It didn’t matter that this was the month when some of my goals were set to be realized. It didn’t matter that I had been looking forward to and working towards this particular event for so long. And neither did it matter that it would have been totally great and wonderful and amazing if everything else could just stop and cooperate so that I could enjoy this one thing without distraction, preoccupation, or any other care in the world. Because, often times, life doesn’t work out like that.
As a result, on the day of the TEDx event (and those leading up to it), I was stressed and tired, feeling overwhelmed, underprepared, and generally, pretty not okay. I had to worry about and focus on other things. My emotional and physical energy was pouring into too many other issues. And, unfortunately, I wasn’t in any place to be really present with the good people around me or to fully appreciate all of the feelings and thoughts that came out of standing on that stage.
I couldn’t fake that it was otherwise either.
I wish that I had been able to spend more time with more of the people and to focus more on the conversations that I could have been having. Instead, I spent a lot of time “collecting myself,” trying to just make it through the day, wishing that was able to be more engaged.
Now don’t get me wrong. I was super excited to give a TEDx talk and when I think back on it, I can isolate the great conglomerate of gratitude, pride, excitement, passion, fun, awe, and appreciation for everything and everyone that made that day possible. But I know that wasn’t all that I was feeling that day because, even though I spent the whole day with the TEDx folks, the talk wasn’t the only thing that was going on for me.
After trying to make sense of this experience, I imagine that the feeling I have, which I’m categorizing as a type of disappointment, is probably similar to how it might feel to plan a gorgeous outdoor wedding and then have it rain during the ceremony. Or perhaps this is how one might feel when the announcer mispronounces your name at graduation as you walk across the stage. Overall, you’re still happy to be married and excited that you got your degree, but the other stuff managed to become part of the experience and, thus, the memory of that moment, too.
As friends have continued to enthusiastically ask how the talk went, I’ve been trying to just be okay with all of that – the TEDx event happened, I did it (without severe mess-ups), and I met some pretty cool people along the way, but there were other things going on in my life, too, that were equally weighty. Before, during, and after, my TEDx talk had to share the spotlight with the rest of my life.
So, for the past couple of months, I guess I’ve been trying to come to terms with my disappointment.
I’m not disappointed in the event or really even in how my talk itself went. But I do think I’m a little disappointed in myself because, unlike with a rainy day or the linguistic ineptitude of someone else, it’s not so easy to point entirely outside of myself to the things that clouded my TEDx experience.
Maybe I was hoping for too much out of my TEDx talk. Maybe I’m a little disappointed in myself for the role I played in setting up conditions that negatively affected my experience of the event. And maybe I’m even a little disappointed in myself for not yet having a deep enough capacity to experience the good and the bad of life at the same time and be okay fully living in that space.
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