Disney and the Art of Disappointment

Last night, it was much easier to begin writing a post because we had a curve ball thrown at us that had us back in our room earlier than the previous few nights.

Tonight, we were sitting down waiting to watch Disney’s Fantasmic show at Hollywood Studios. I was super excited because neither Maya nor I had ever seen it. We managed to get to the theater early and lucked out with seats that were pretty much perfect – just high enough to see everything clearly without being too far away and dead center with no one sitting in front of Maya, so she didn’t have to peer between adults to see what was going on. The Goldilocks Zone of event seating. The show began and it was, well, fantasmic fantastic. All of a sudden about 20 minutes into the show while Jafar is whirlpooling down to be trapped into his lamp prison the video projection on the water freezes… a collective gasp/groan/sigh emerges from the hundreds of people in the amphitheater, and a moment later blinding house floodlights come on and an announcer informs us that due to technical difficulties the show is unable to continue. Maya bursts into tears.

I gather her up in my arms and squeeze her, wishing I had a Disney magic wand to wave to make either the show go on or Maya’s disappointment disappear. I carry her out of the theater (no mean feat – she’s getting HEAVY and there are a LOT of stairs!) while she sobs and I’m trying to soothe her, apologize for the cancelled show, and assure her it’s going to be alright.

Sidebar Background

Quick note to provide a little more context prior to this evening. For those who are tuning in for the first time, we’ve been planning this Disney trip for three years, and had to lock down a lot of details a year-plus in advance to make this all work. In order to get guaranteed seating at the show, we had to buy a special dining package at a pretty expensive Hollywood Studios restaurant. Without this guaranteed seating, people begin lining up two-plus hours ahead of time to get in. Seating is guaranteed, but not assigned, meaning the earlier you show up the more likely you are to get good seats. That we timed it as well as we did to get these seats was nothing less than Disney magic. Furthermore, after getting our seats, we still had to wait for 45 minutes for the show to start. For anyone with a very fidgety nearly-six-year-old, you can imagine what we were up against. It seemed the stars had aligned and we were due to get our perfect Disney magic memory for our little princess and us. Sigh. So, beyond the initial setup I mentioned, this was years’ worth of planning and additional expense in the making, so needless to say we were disappointed as well.

Disappointment Deconstructed

While carrying Maya out and feeling her shuddering sobs against me, I reflected on how disappointed I felt given all of the circumstances I mentioned above. Yet, somehow, my disappointment seemed…less. Bearing witness to Maya’s reaction (caveat: she was clearly exhausted as well and does not usually cry at the drop of a hat) made it somehow easier to make space for, recognize, and not get lost in my own feelings of disappointment.

Yet our (read: my) reaction to disappointments much smaller than this are often merely a (slightly) more mature version of the meltdown I was carrying in my arms. In particular, when we have a specific situation we have been working toward for a long time, and have a specific vision of how it should and will be that goes sideways – we lose our $#!+ (pardon my %).

Disappointment is totally understandable given the Action/Inspiration/Motivation cycle articulated by Mark Manson in his book “The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck.” If we have enough emotional inspiration, it motivates us to take action to achieve the vision (inspiration) desired. According to Manson, each piece of the cycle reinforces the others. No matter where you begin on the cycle, momentum continues to build, meaning that as you take more steps to make your vision a reality, it increases both your motivation and your inspiration over time. When a vision is realized, it can release this built up motivational and inspirational energy as positive feelings ranging anywhere from satisfaction to utter ecstasy. When this increasingly built up vision suddenly comes crashing down, all of that pent up emotional energy washes over you instead in a negative way: disappointment, anger, frustration, etc.

This is an area I struggle with as a person trying to live mindfully while still living in everyday life situations. On the one hand, the hope is to neither cling to good things nor avoid bad things. On the other, if we went through daily life trying to have neutral feelings about everything from winning the lottery to accidentally chopping off a finger, it seems like a pretty colorless existence. Our innate nature is to change and improve our circumstances, so the challenge lies in using the Action/Inspiration/Motivation cycle to do so, while not becoming so invested that disappointment threatens to overwhelm us.

At the End…?

I wish I had a silver bullet or a specific action plan to get to that magical point, but others far wiser and more enlightened than me have struggled to do this. What I can tell you, is that I did have a conversation with Maya the next morning explaining how her disappointment was shared by us and everyone else in the theater. I used the fact that we’ve been planning this trip for years (she’s been aware of this) means we were particularly disappointed because of the cancellation; however, sometimes, this is what life throws at you. You work hard and have a plan and a goal, and sometimes the plan and/or the goal don’t happen the way you thought. It’s okay to feel sad (disappointed), but it’s also (ultimately) okay that what you planned didn’t happen. Sad but still okay. I hope she got it. Stay tuned to find out I guess…?

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