Let me share something I often hear from friends. See if it sounds familiar: “I thought by now I’d have this figured out.” There are variations, including “I thought by now I’d be happy/have a family/be successful at something in life.” There is this idea floating around that by the time you’re in your 30s, you should have arrived … somewhere. Our 20s are for having fun, goofing off, partying and exploring and finding ourselves. But by the time you hit 30, you need to have it figured out. Settle down, start a family, have a successful career, buy a house. If you’re not there yet, you are clearly missing something and you’re probably a loser.
My first question is, where does this idea come from? I don’t know that there’s a particular source for this cultural wisdom. It’s all around us. It just seems reasonable that in 30 years of life, we should have figured out what we want, where we want to live, who we want to spend the rest of our lives with, and how we want to make a living. And yet, reality often falls far short of that idea.
I’d say about half my friends are in their 30s and seem to have things together. They’re married, they have kids, pets, houses, vocations, and vacations. Then there are the rest: whether they are single or divorced, infertile, still looking for the right career, still renting, struggling to make ends meet or get through an addiction or broken heart, they feel like they’re missing something they should have by now. They feel lost, confused, broken, and weary from carrying the burden of disappointment and unmet expectations. I’m in my 30s and I fall somewhere between these two groups. I have some of the expected things, but I also struggle with the disappointment of a life that doesn’t quite look like I’d hoped it would by now. And I know that even some of my friends who seem to have it together are struggling with things most people would never guess. Some are recovering from cancer. Some are recovering addicts. Some are trying to keep their families together when there is so much that could tear them apart.
Disappointment is defined as the feeling of sadness or displeasure caused by the nonfulfillment of one’s hopes or expectations. I think one step to dealing with disappointment is realizing that what we hoped for or expected might not have been grounded in reality. In my generation, we’ve been brought up on a steady diet of empowerment, entitlement, and positivity. We’ve accepted these ideas and now believe that if we do the right things and think the right way, we can achieve anything and gain all that we desire. We deserve the best simply because we exist. Unfortunately, as good as all that sounds, it’s simply not true. Sometimes we can do what is right and still lose everything because of another person’s actions. Diseases and disorders and infertility happen because of the environment around us and the imperfect cells inside us. And sometimes what we actually deserve is a lot worse than what we get. The truth is, we live in a world filled with beauty but marred with ugliness. No matter how hard we try to concentrate on the beauty and surround ourselves with it, the ugliness still exists, and sometimes it threatens to ruin everything we’ve worked for.
Now for the good news:
You are not the master of your destiny.
At first, this might not seem to be good news. I struggle with it sometimes. I like to be in control. When I sense that something in my life is heading in a direction I don’t like, I stop and evaluate the situation, and figure out what I can do to fix it. Then I take it upon myself to take the necessary action. I don’t think this is a bad approach to problem-solving. It suits me much better than giving up or whining about being a victim of my circumstances. But ultimately, I recognize that I am not in control. All my evaluation and all my best efforts, my successes and failures and even my disappointments, are in God’s hands. He has a plan, not just for me, but for the world, and it is good. Every experience of my life fits into it somehow, and he is using all of it to make me the person he wants me to be, for his glory.
Your view of the world may be different. You may not acknowledge or appreciate God’s role in it. And even if you do, you may think that only a cruel, capricious god would force us to endure the pain of disappointment. The idea of an all-powerful being in control of your life might bring you more terror and frustration than comfort. You might think that faith in someone you can’t see is a form of weakness, that you shouldn’t have to trust in someone stronger than you. You may even think, “he might have had a good plan for me, but surely I’ve messed it up so badly that he’s given up on me by now.” I can appreciate all of that. Throughout my life, God has showed me through various ways that he is real, that he loves me, and that I can trust him. I still have to remind myself of that, often. I have questioned every life decision I’ve ever made on more than one occasion, even the ones where I strongly sensed God’s leading. Surely he didn’t really mean for me to do that. I’ve made some bad decisions and outright mistakes that I never saw coming, and many of them have led to feelings of disappointment, frustration, and unworthiness.
I wish I could have this conversation in person with each one of you reading this right now. I would look into your eyes and tell you, “I would like to be able to look into your future and tell you it’ll be okay, that it all works out, that the bad will become good and the good will stay good and you will be happy.” I don’t know the future, and I can’t tell you that. I can tell you that I know someone who does know the future, mine and yours, and he can do amazing and wonderful with these real-life messed up lives of ours. He did it all throughout the Bible and throughout history and he can do it for me and you. I sincerely hope that what lies ahead for you is redemption and vindication and only good things. I hope that you will look back on these times of disappointment and think, “That was hard, and I hated it, but it made me who I am today and I wouldn’t change that for anything.”
Even in the midst of disappointment, these thoughts keep me going: God sees me. He knows what I am going through. He is with me. He understands the pain of living in this messed up world. He is working in the midst of all of it to bring beauty from ashes and roses from thorns. Beyond this life, he has a perfect place prepared for me for eternity, and my mission is to bring as many people with me as I can.
I know I want better for my life. I have failed so many times I’ve lost count. There are many things I thought I’d be by now, that I’m not. I thought I’d be a best-selling author. I thought I’d own a lovely home and have a few horses. I thought I would be constantly fulfilled and satisfied by mothering my children, but most of the time they wear me out. I love them, and I’m exhausted. I thought I’d be happier. I thought I’d have more money, be out of debt. I have fallen short in more areas than I thought possible. I want to look into my own future and see happiness, prosperity, success, and contentment, but I know that none of that is guaranteed. What I do know is that no matter what happens, God is with me. He understands my disappointment, my struggles, my failures and griefs. He walks through them with me and gives me the strength to deal with the unexpected. And even in those moments when the inner strength I have developed fails me, he is strong. I can lean on him, and hope in him, because he guides me steps and holds my heart. He does not disappoint.
Sometimes, in order to battle disappointment, you just need to widen your perspective. Instead of focusing on yourself, consider something good you might be able to do for someone else. Rather than wallow in your bad choices, learn from them and make better ones from now on. If you need help gaining perspective, then reach out to someone, maybe a friend, maybe a therapist, who can talk you through your disappointment into peace. Your struggles don’t make you a loser, they mean you’re human. You are not alone in this. Many people in their 30s (or other stages in life) feel the same things to various degrees. I know because I hear it so often. I feel it myself. Take some hope from all our struggles and victories. There is hope. You can be better, and so can your life. A whole new level of peace and happiness could be waiting just beyond this disappointment. Hang in there.
Have you experienced this feeling of disappointment? What are some healthy ways you have found to cope with it?