Make the Most of Disappointment

Disappointment has an upside. If used correctly it can also be a motivator for growth and a recalibration of expectations to meet reality.

“Disappointment is a sort of bankruptcy - the bankruptcy of a soul that expends too much in hope and expectation.” - Eric Hoffer

Imagine a world where disappointment did not exist.  A place where all of our dreams come true and all our expectations are met.  There would be no cynicism, regrets, anger, jealousy, or betrayal.  Coworkers would cheer one another on, be excited when someone succeeds, and celebrate each other’s victories without the bitter aftertaste of “Why not me?  I deserve it as much as him!”  In relationships no one would lie, cheat, or sleep with a badge bunny.  There would be no divorce; everyone’s first spouse would be their only spouse, forever and ever “till death do we part,” because not only would all the hopes of the wedding day come true but we’d remain eternally as sexy, caring, and selfless toward each other as in the early days of courting.  Our kids would all be exceptional – full ride scholarships in academics, athletics, and music, never a wrecked car or 0300 call for bail (“I told the officer you were a cop, too, and she didn’t care at all… it’s just not fair!”).  Your pension would be flush and outside investments soaring; you could retire at 20 years and live the next forty without a care but why would you ever do that because going to this job is a daily delight! 

However, disappointment does exist.  Everyone knows what it is like to set a goal whether it is losing weight, being financially set, or for advancement in their career and to watch the dream just slip away.  It can be as easy as an unexpected bill coming in the mail that eats away all the overtime being put away for a long overdue vacation or watching a coveted assignment you’ve worked diligently for become out of reach when your best friend and mentor, who commanded the unit and was grooming you for the job, is replaced by Lt Grudge, who has hated you since your academy days.  

But disappointment also has an upside, if used correctly; it can also be a motivator for growth and a recalibration of expectations to meet reality.  To be disappointed is to be sad or displeased because someone or something has failed to fulfill your hopes or expectations.  Sometimes that someone is you.

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I have been in law enforcement for the past 18 years and there has been one theme I’ve seen that has been remarkably consistent.  I noticed it first among colleagues in my own agency but would especially encounter the same theme as Althea & I later began writing for law enforcement publications and started traveling the country as trainers.  We got to correspond, meet, and talk with some incredibly intelligent and talented peace officers with hearts as big as Texas.  They would tell us stories of their careers and of the excitement of being hired and getting to fulfill their dream of “being the police.”  They would also talk about the frustrations they never expected when they were young and idealistic and the disappointments that began to chip away at not only their idealism but also hope and self-esteem.  Across most (not all.  To be fair, we have met many LEOs who love their agencies, bosses, and communities and manage to roll with the punches with little or no cynicism) agencies, whether federal, municipal, state, or county, the theme of disappointment was common. 

Rarely are they disappointed in those they arrest and protect their communities from.  We all knew what we were signing up for and, although we may be a little shocked at first how widespread ignorance is, or that the line between the good and bad is often quite blurred, we come to grips with the realities of serving an often ungrateful public.  Most often the disappointment is centered on one of two common complaints, the first of which is systemic and focused on a slow, frustrating judicial system, detached, hubris-filled police and political administrations, or both.  Do this job long enough and you’ll know firsthand the frustration of crime and (non)punishment, felonies denied, good cases (built with exhausting effort) dropped or charges reduced with little or no coherent explanation, and politically motivated decision-making.  It really does deal idealism a vicious blow.

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