The ability to sustain disappointment

Anything that you remember decades after the fact is noteworthy ipso facto. Even if you attached no particular importance to the event at the time, your memory somehow decides subsequently that it was important.

To my own surprise, for example, I regularly remember a moment that occurred about fifteen years ago. Somehow I had allowed myself to be hired out of a Masters program at the London School of Economics to one of the big American investment banks in London. To people who know me, this was funny then and remains funny now.

One reason I joined this bank may have been (who knows what I was thinking) that they claimed to have a good training program in New York. So they flew a bunch of us to New York for a few months.

All of this (save the night-time recreational activities in New York) was and remains entirely forgettable. I could not tell you a single thing I learned in that training program.

Except one thing that my memory later filtered out:

Once, one of the bank’s honchos came to address us, the trainees. He wanted to impart some wisdom to us about success at the bank and, presumably, in life.

The single biggest factor, he said, is an

ability to sustain disappointment.

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22 thoughts on “The ability to sustain disappointment

  1. He may have had a presentiment that one of his anonymous listeners (you) would become an apostate and go into journalism, thereby becoming investment banking’s irrevocable loss.

  2. On the face of it, this makes a lot of sense–it is the concept of resiliency which is emerging as a major factor in human happiness and ability to cope with reality.

    But because this statement was uttered by a Wall Street operative, it is probably worthy of closer scrutiny. You sent me to the dictionary to look up “sustain” so we can deconstruct the statement. One meaning, of course, is “to bear up under,” which supports the idea of resiliency.

    However, a number of other definitions are “support as true, legal or just,” and “to support by adequate proof, confirm.”

    If your potentate had those terms in mind, he could have been articulating his business model for the coming millenium. 🙂

    • Very witty.

      In fact, one reason why I remembered the quote may have been that he used “sustain” in an unusual way, “to endure”. But I checked, and it is one meaning.

  3. “I couldn’t tell you a single thing I learned in that training program,” of course, is very different from stating that you didn’t learn a single thing in that program. I wonder if your phrasing here is deliberate or subconscious.

    Also, there’s the phenomenon of false memory syndrome. The line by the bank honcho may be the only thing you remember, but perhaps he actually said something else. I sometimes remember verbatim a particular line from a movie I saw years ago, but when I watch it again, the line I had remembered so well turns out to be totally different.

    And I have no idea what it means to be able to sustain disappointment. That’s like saying one must be able to sustain injury—who isn’t?

    Like Thomas, you’re sending me to the dictionary. Mr. Dangle says hello!

    • There is indeed such a thing as false memory syndrome. But most other times our memory is amazing for being so accurate so selectively.

      Especially when the words chose are unusual (as in “to sustain” in this context), our memory tends to be right.

    • It’s all psychological. If we’re generally bored with our lives, we have a tendency to remember things (including words) as having been more exciting and unusual than they actually were.

      I don’t remember if it’s called false memory syndrome or flawed recollection disorder. The former simply sounds more exciting.

  4. “Some conflicts are better left unresolved” such was the first thing the lecturer said when he began a one week intensive course on «conflict solving». It startled every manager present. That “sustain” sounds in the same league. Thinking matter…and you are still at it so they were darn good teachers.

  5. Sustaining disappointment is not easy especially if one is optimistic by nature. I think it’s also difficult when one is a little on the spoiled side, when the five year old inside continually expects to have everything go his or her way.

    I think that’s why I get a kick out of watching my grandchildren: they help me to grow up, get a grip, and peel my face off of the floor!

    • Isn’t it _easier_ to sustain disappointment when you are optimistic by nature? I certainly feel that is my case. Despite slipping into slightly jaded middle age, I haven’t lost the conviction that life should treat me much more kindly than is at all likely in reality.

    • The conviction that life SHOULD or WILL treat you more kindly?

      Optimism is the latter.

      I think of myself as a pessimist, so your theory suggests that I will struggle more than others…

    • Interesting observations and semantic wrinkles. I would put it differently than Mary Jane because I think that sustaining disappointment refers to resiliency is the key to surviving disappointment. Part of resiliency is what we would call optimism. The resilient person accepts setbacks and adjusts their behaviour/thinking to either make the best of it, minimize the risk of it happening again or simply accepting it. If we know that disappointments are inevitable can we still be optimistic? Yes, you can expect the best outcome (while the pessimist plans for disappointment). The difference is how you deal with it.

      As far as whether life SHOULD or WILL treat you kindly, that is another huge philosophical debate. The difference between optimists and pessimists is their expectation of how the world WILL treat them. People who think the world “should” do something to meet their wishes or expectations are not optimists or pessimists. They are doomed to disappointment.

    • Fair point about “should” vs “will”. I guess there are some people who feel that the world should treat them better and endlessly bemoan the fact that it surely never will. They are pessimists. I’m much more sanguine about the prospects for achieving my goals, however lofty, through a combination of hard work and dogged self-delusion. That’s why I would classify myself as an optimist.

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