Accepting Disappointment

I've been disappointed, as in soul bruising, bone crushing disappointed, only twice in my life. I'm probably lucky it has been only twice.

Which isn't to say I haven't been disappointed more often than that in life (how boring would life be with no expectations and no hope), just that I've had only two of the really, really difficult to overcome disappointments.

And thankfully, only twice.

The first time was when I applied to graduate school at Caltech.

I was an undergraduate there, and through a bizarre series of course work counting snafus on both the registrar's and my parts, I missed graduating in four years by three credits. Those three credits are the equivalent of 1 credit at most universities, as 436 credits were needed to graduate from Caltech as an undergraduate.

So, there I was, not graduating, but needing only one small engineering elective to be done. Since I would already be enrolled for a full term, I figured I'd use the opportunity to get my Master's degree.

Caltech has a B.S./M.S. program where a student can take up to an extra year and receive both degrees. It seemed to be a good scenario for me, so I applied. I didn't apply for any funding, just the opportunity to get my Masters.

My application was declined.

I was devastated.

I was already taking the courses in anticipation of continuing my studies. As a result, I wasn't taking any spot away from another student for quotas. I wasn't expecting any funding, so I wasn't costing the school any money. My grades were, admittedly, not spectacular, but they were on par with my fellow classmates. I saw no reason for the declination.

I talked to various professors to appeal the decision, to no avail.

I left Tech bitter. Sure, with a B.S., but still bitter.

Eventually, my bitterness faded, and I can now remember the good parts of my undergraduate work, but it took a long time. Time. And the eventual recognition that my expectations were probably unreasonable. Although I still see no reason for declining my application, I also see no reason to accept it. I wasn't a stellar student, nor a successful researcher, so from the school's perspective, it was easier for them to just cut me lose.

Fair enough.

The second disappointment was far more recent. It is also based, tragically more so, on unrealistic expectations. In retrospect, completely and totally unrealistic expectations.

Earlier this year, I applied for Team USA, representing the United States in ultimate for the 2005 World Games in Germany on a mixed gender ultimate team.

Originally, the application process included an online application, tryouts and a by-committee team selection.

When applying, I had nothing to lose. I'm not a well known player (in terms of my play) in the ultimate community. I don't know most of the women's-only players, so I couldn't be intimidated by them. I had been training with Geno for months and had strength and quickness I had never possessed before.

No, I had nothing to lose.

Except the selection process didn't go as planned. I was training hard for the tryouts; they didn't happen. I had no chance to go up against the well known women's players. By name recognition only, I was a complete unknown.

Of all of the 37 woman applicants, I was the only one who was a true Mixed player. I've been playing mixed ultimate since I moved to the Bay Area in 1997. I've been playing with Kris since 1998. All the other women applicants play in the women's division. There was one other woman who recently "retired" to mixed, but no one else whose career was Mixed.

Which I believe helped me in the selection process: I made the first cut and was one of 14 women on the short list for 6 team spots and 2 alternates.

Exciting!!! (And, yes, that excitement deserved the usually avoided multiple exclamation points.)

Unfortunately, it also raised my expectations for making the team.

In a completely irrational way, I began to hope. Wow, I might make Team USA. Omigod, how unbelievably cool would that be?

I started working out even harder. My usual 3-4 hours / day, 6 days a week workouts became 4-5 hours / day, 6 days a week. I gained weight. I gained strength. I gained muscle like I'd never had before.

Yes, I was definitely excited and motivated. For the first time in my life, I was motivated to do well in sports. I wanted to make this team more than I thought imaginable. I worked out physically. I worked on my mental game. I did everything I could do. I ate, slept, dreamt ultimate.

Kris warned me.

He tried. Oh, he tried. He tried very hard to reduce my expectations. He knew what was coming. In retrospect, I should have, too.

Truly unsurprisingly, I didn't make the team. And rightly so, actually.

I can say this now. I realize now that I'm not at the elite women's player level of play. I can hold my own, but I'm really not a Team USA level player.

I can't say it's impossible for me to become physically capable of playing at the elite level. I've tried only once, and that was earlier this year.

What I can say, however, is that I don't have the confidence or mental game to play that game. I can also say if I had started playing years before I did, I might have learned that confidence. But I didn't. And I don't. And I can't play at that level.

Phew! That said (and I can say that now), at the time of team announcements, I was disappointed. Bone crushing, soul searing disappointed.

All the small injuries I had been ignored rushed at me. I lost any desire to play ultimate. Playing became a chore. Every failed throw, every bad cut, every drop became a demonstration of how bad of a player I was.

I stopped having fun.

So, I stopped playing.

I quit Mischief. I took my name off all the mailing lists and team signups. I stopped going to practice. I stopped going to tournaments. I stopped running.

Citing injuries, I started to fade from the local ultimate scene. I pulled away from my friends. I pulled away from Kris.

I wanted nothing to do with the thing that caused me so much hurt.

But it's hard to stay away from something that has been such a big part of my life for over a decade. From something that somewhat defines my relationship with Kris. From something that encompasses my social network in the same way most religious groups form communities.

It almost hurt not to play. It mostly hurt my relationship with Kris. We no longer had the strategy discussions, the after-tournament reviews, the workouts, the commuting time to and from practice and tournaments.

As Kris said, "I knew this day would come, I just wasn't expecting it so soon."

So, unlike my disappointment with Tech, I could actually do something about this disappointment. I started playing again. This time, though, on my own terms.

I've been playing the games I want to play, running the workouts I want to run, and learning, once again, you get out of life what you put in.

And I've learned to accept disappointment. It hasn't been easy, and it's a lesson I should have learned long ago, but at least it's (mostly) learned now.

When I have expectations, I have to be aware of potential disappointments. And the greater the expectation, the bigger the disappointment. I don't think I'll stop having expectations. I will, however, try to put them in perspective.

That way, when I swallow that bitter pill, maybe it won't be so big.

Good luck, Team USA.