Disappointment and Gratitude
[This story was originally published here.]
Yesterday I turned 35. It’s a milestone birthday for many, but I can’t say I had any strong feelings or expectations for it as it came and went. For the most part, it was a quiet, long weekend for some much-needed time from work that I have been feeling more and more burnt out on.
The pinnacle of my birthday was getting a new computer. A much grander gift than I could have ever imagined. I have been surviving on my current computer for 8 years and have been daydreaming about a new computer for some time. Given, the one I want is well beyond my means at the moment, so my wife took the initiative to get me a used computer from an old friend.
At first, I was a little shocked. Both by the gesture, but also, to be honest, because I felt a little stuck. It wasn’t the one I wanted, but how could I complain? The computer I’ve stretched well beyond its lifespan could crash for its final time any day now and my life is greatly tied to my computer: my teaching day-job, my hobby/dream-job, and my main source of entertainment — video games and watching sports — are all focused around this one machine.
This underlying feeling went deeper and all the more present when it turned out my new gift was unusable. It was an old work computer given to my wife’s friend from his company and sadly, he no longer remembered his password. What's more, I couldn’t reboot it to factory installation because of the BitLocker code he, of course, didn’t have.
A quiet, relaxing birthday quickly turned into an existential midlife crisis based on the duality of disappointment and gratitude.
If you know me or my writing, the duality of life is not lost on me. This blog is called bipolar philosophy. The first novel is entitled ‘Sin and Zen’, my second novel is ‘Anger and Hope’. The third and final novel of the trilogy is working under the title of ‘Fear and Love’. All three books also contain other dualistic themes such as pride/shame, death/life, etc. After this birthday, I will now be including disappointment and gratitude in the third book.
Despite my awareness that we can’t have happiness without sadness, I spent most of the night wrestling these feelings of gratitude and disappointment. It may have been triggered by my disappointing gift that I was grateful for, but the quiet, dark hours of the early morning soon had me going down the rabbit hole of thoughts I often ventured alone.
A simple mind would have just allowed me to blame my wife and her friend for the disappointment and leave it at that. ‘Why didn’t you check to make sure it worked before you gave it to me?’ And then throw the computer across the room and cry because it’s my birthday and I want to. None of that was the answer, and if nothing else, 35 years of life have taught me that.
My disappointment was in myself. I had been so sure I was smart enough and intelligent enough to get past lost passwords and BitLocker encryptions to make this machine run for me. I lost hours solving a puzzle I couldn’t figure out until I finally quit and went to bed, a defeated man.
I was a defeated man that felt disappointed in himself because:
- I was not as smart as I thought I was.
- I was not as successful in life as I hoped I would be.
- I was not even making a living in a career I wanted.
- I didn’t have more money saved up.
- I no longer had the friendships I used to.
- I was not as healthy I could be.
‘This is some bullshit.’ I thought. But then I looked at my wife sleeping next to me and then down at the floor to my faithful and loving puppies always within leg’s reach of me. I had them. I am so thankful I have them. I was a failure and disappointment in so many ways, and yet, I had reason to be grateful that I am where I am today.
- I’ve found a new meaning of home in a family I never thought possible.
- I’ve had life experiences that have helped me grow.
- I’ve traveled and lived in many parts of the world.
- I have a job where people pay me to teach them.
- And I can do that job from anywhere in the world.
- I’ve written books that aren’t just more mass-media, writing-to-trend bores.
- I still have another day — another chance — to succeed where I have failed.
I am clearly not a blind optimist, but I do understand that the polar ends of life are of the same pole. Most often what we can be disappointed about, we can also find gratitude. It feels kind of yucky to ‘practice gratitude’ because of all the hippy nonsense tied around this concept. Then again, it feels horribly cliché to have a mini-midlife crisis turning 35.
Still, my constant dance with depression and mental breakdowns has taught me there is a silver lining in every dark cloud. There are deeper questions to be asked when confronted with these paralyzing feelings and thoughts.
Turning 35, I am still the same man I was at 34, and yet, the questions that guide me through life have evolved:
- What is the right way to measure a life?
- Is it healthy to be disappointed by certain things?
- How important are careers, money, family, experiences, and friendships?
These are the questions I have started asking myself as I have become a man settling into his thirties. It goes without saying that all life has value no matter what they accomplish. Being a dog (and cat) person makes that evidently clear.
Still, we humans are more complicated than the rest of our earthly companions. We don’t tell the clouds they are floating in the wrong direction, nor do we try to straighten out the branches of every crooked tree.
Yet, as humans, we have the benefit and curse of seeing ourselves deeper than anything else in life. And that is my lifelong goal now. These are the questions I will now use to measure the disappointment and gratitude in myself:
- How much do I understand about myself?
- How at peace am I with myself?
- How much am I truly living out who I am in every aspect of my life?
On the outside, nothing has changed in the transition of 34 to 35. Yet, a milestone is just that, it is a stone, only one step of thousands, that marks a time and place for us. It may exist only in our mind or spirit, but it bears a graveness that turns one tiny stone into a major building block of our foundation.
I turned 35 today. I am disappointed. I am grateful. I am old and I am young. I don’t know if I am halfway through life or a third or at its end, but I am here today and the sun will rise again tomorrow — no matter what happens.
S. W. Stribling
P. S. I got the computer working. Suck it, Windows 10 and BitLocker.