3 min read

I feel like a disappointment

Feeling like a disappointment can be debilitating for a career-oriented man. But paradoxically the one thing we can control is how we feel about a situation.

"I feel like a disappointment" is one of those things felt but unspoken by many men in middle age.

And it can occur for many reasons:
- disappointment in career progression
- being more absent than present as a father
- less than an equal partner
- not being financially prepared for retirement

None of these are life-threatening but the feeling, if not checked, can through us into depression.

But the crucial word in this is "feeling".

It is entirely subjective

And tells us more about our reaction to a situation than the situation itself

And, because it tells us about us, it puts us in a position to do something about it...
The situation may be untenable
But we can still not feel like a disappointment
There is little we can do about the situation per se
But there is everything in the world we can do about how we react to it

Let's take these one-by-one

Disappointment in Career Progression

Career progression in an hierarchical organisation means simply moving higher up the pyramid. And the higher we go, the fewer places there are to fill. We see this numerically in terms of managerial span-of-control; for every one above, there are 7-15 below. That certainly limits the opportunities to progress upwards - in the same organisation.

But it also limits the opportunities if we more sideways to another organisation, for it too will be pyramidal in structure.

Consider also that organisations are essentially political beasts and that a change in leadership can mean a change in political influence and our career development can come to a grinding halt.

That's the situation.

Now, how do we feel about it?

We can feel like a disappointment or we can see it more philosophically and consider that the career path we envisaged in our youth was not to be, usually for reasons not of our making.

This fundamental shift can alter how we face all disappointments in life. The only thing we need to guard against is becoming fatalistic.

Disappointment as a parent

This is related to the career progression problem. We men are notorious for putting work ahead of family in the, misguided but entirely understandable, belief that our role is to provide. Unfortunately, we tend to put the focus on providing for material needs rather than emotional. Emotionally absent is as damaging to children as physically absent and we have every right to feel a disappointment to them as a result.

Again, we cannot change the situation, we can only change how we react to it. And reacting to it maturely and unemotionally will show your children that you own the situation. Then it is just a matter of letting time do its work...

Disappointment as a partner

Similar to the parenting situation, this is largely driven by our misguided but well-intentioned desire to provide for material wealth. Sometimes our partner's status will be related to our own, and should we not be "successful" enough, this can damage the relationship.

More often though, we use relationship tensions to justify working harder, which only exacerbates the underlying tensions.

It is only after the fact that we are able to see what had happened and, accordingly, feel that sense of disappointment. And, again, the situation is as it is; how we react to it is crucial - even if the relationship is beyond repair.

Disappointment in providing for retirement

Perhaps you did not heed all the good advice regarding the power of compound interest.

Perhaps your situation was more along the lines of working until you drop; because you actually enjoy working.

Or perhaps it was neither of these and some thing unique to you and your life.

Either way, this situation is entirely of our own making, there are no external factors playing a part in this. Thus, this sense of disappointment is felt the most keenly because, paradoxically, if we worked hard all our lives, we ought to have enough to retire on.

"I feel like a disappointment" tells us only about our reaction to the situation and so we can bring it under our control. This is a positive and powerful realisation.