Will Life’s Disappointments Diminish the Promise of Your Potential in the Second Half of Life?

2014-03-09 18.25.22Life will break you.

Catastrophe and misfortune meet you along the way and the results are sorrow, despair, grief, pain and misery.

No one escapes. No one.

This isn’t about the disappointment you might experience when your sports team loses or Cosco has run out of your favorite gummy fish.

This is about bitter disappointment.

The kind of heartbreak that must have been experienced last month when hundreds of climbers found out they weren’t going to be able to test their skills to reach the top of Mt. Everest.

The tragic loss of 16 Sherpas in an avalanche on April 18th was the worst single event in Everest history. The climbing community mourned the deaths then were caught in the tangled web on the sidelines between Sherpas and their government.

When the mountain ‘functionally’ closed, not only had lives been lost but dreams shattered.

“A lot of people have been preparing for this for years and their whole lives have been leading up to it. It’s hugely disappointing,” said Tim Mosedale, British expedition leader who has summited 4 times.

Mosedale elaborates the essentials of the Everest Dream. “…the cost of the gear (a few £0,000) and the cost of the trip (quite a few more £00,000), having managed to get 2 months off work (a big ask), it being the right time in your life and career and asking your friends and family to put up with your obsessive training and dedication to the project for the months running up to it.”

Will these individuals who sacrificed so much try Everest again? Or will they play life a little safer?

You and I may not know a carabiner from a jumar, but in the ache of their loss and defeat we can recall our own stories.

That’s good because mining disappointments is more critical to your plan for a truly exciting and vibrant life post50 than that old bucket list you created.

So bring on your inventory of bitter disappointments (whether you contributed to them or not). Ready for that?

Street art in Cuenca, Ecuador.
Street art in Cuenca, Ecuador

When Things Don’t Turn Out

A 1,000 mountaineers were on Everest at start of the season; 600 were Sherpas. The rest were on commercial teams that pay upward of $40,000 to be guided to the summit. Climbers will forfeit most or all of the money which can amount to $90,000 or more.

Some climbers had previously summited; others were trying for the first time or after several failed attempts. In the midst of their unfulfilled dreams, a future reckoning remains:

  • Jim Geiger,68, husband, grandfather and great-grandfather has been training for a year to prepare for the challenge of being the oldest American to ever accomplish the climb to the top of Mt. Everest. (Yuichi Miura, 80, is the oldest man to summit Everest and Tamae Watanabe, 73, the oldest woman. Both are from Japan.) Asked if he would attempt to climb Everest again, Geiger said it’s still too early to tell but that’s been a goal of his for many years. “Do I go back next year? Can I afford it? Do I want to train another year? I never say never.”
  • “It’s bitter, bitter disappointment,” said British investment banker, 34, James Brooman who gave up more than money and time for a dream. “I’m probably worse off than most in some ways, since I quit my job and my apartment to do this, so to leave here with a shattered dream – no job, a lot less money and no real home – it’s tough.”
  • “I feel like I let everyone down,” said Kent Steward, an American climber, “If I don’t make it to the top of Everest, I’m afraid there will always be a hole in my life, and frankly, that worries me.” Steward has summited 6 of the highest peaks, 5 with his wife Julie., married 32 years. He was unsuccessful in his attempt last year for Everest.
  • “I have a great plan, “said Jon Reiter who planned to scatter the ashes of his younger brother, Jesse on the summit of Everest. “ I am going to go home and hug my 12-year-old. A tug of war is going on within me. But I am going home alive.”

My life’s journey includes the lover who left (disappeared, actually), a job I deserved but wasn’t offered, the busted business venture, a broken marriage and the end of a friendship. I hurt just writing them.

We never get over bitter disappointments. We carry them with us.

Can our dreams and hopes ever hold as much hunger or be as grand?

A post50 life design based in truth investigates whether future aspirations avoid boldness simply because the road of the first half of life turned up sink holes.

In other words, is the part of your life that sucked still playing with your head?

Biography Affects Judgments

Bitter disappointment is the sorrowful failing to satisfy one’s hopes or expectations, great disillusionment.

A few climbers will never again attempt Everest. They’ll re-work the dream and defer to other peaks less treacherous, less glorious.

Others will make a deliberate and even more passionate decision to try to summit again – a dream revived.

But for Kent Steward who said he worried this shattered dream would always be “a hole in his life,” the answers may not be clear cut.

Can he find new aspirations to fill the hole? Will new goals be as large and wild as ascending Everest?  Will there be dreams at all?

The problem with bitter disappointments is they affect how we feel about taking risks. Pipe dreams, castles in the sky, outlandish ideas – all may seem best put away in the mind’s attic.

But in our ‘50s and ‘60s we must invent a life for the future and that is best done on a foundation of our hopes and dreams – exactly those things that may have gotten us those disappointments the first time round.

Daring dreams of flight from life-as-we-know-it; the naughty fantasy of what we always wanted to do or be; and the yearning of trying again – discovery is the work of an individual at mid-life.

And upon further inspection to ask:

 Are my disappointments in life influencing the creation of my truest hopes and dreams?

Will the loss of a business in the first half of live prevent a new venture in the last half of life?

Do I defer to modified dreams because of past disappointments?

What am I giving up in the last thirty years of life because of bitter disappointments?  

2014-01-29 15.04.02Hold Your Face Between Your Palms

A few experts say disappointment is closely linked to unrealistically high expectations. 

I don’t believe that’s true.

We’ve all tried our best in situations with reasonable hopes but things didn’t work out. It’s not outlandish to expect that with genuine effort a marriage can last, the land will produce a good crop, we’ll keep our health, make money and the kids will turn out okay.

Life is messy and ragged.

By now a few of your bitter disappointments have come to mind. Forget about a therapy session or six to rehash or dwell on them.

In my experience there are two sides to bitter disappointment. We move on and learn to love life again.

Stumbling is an inevitable part of living, but permanent injury to hopes and dreams is not.

In case a bitter disappointment still hovers in your life, Ellen Bass, the American poet, crafts a poignant message swollen with wisdom to revive your post50 spirit.

I hope you enjoy it.

The Thing Is

to love life, to love it even
when you have no stomach for it
and everything you’ve held dear
crumbles like burnt paper in your hands,
your throat filled with the silt of it.
When grief sits with you, its tropical heat
thickening the air, heavy as water
more fit for gills than lungs;
when grief weights you like your own flesh
only more of it, an obesity of grief,
you think, How can a body withstand this?
Then you hold life like a face
between your palms, a plain face,
no charming smile, no violet eyes,
and you say, yes, I will take you
I will love you, again.
Ellen Bass


Note: As hard as I tried I could find no stories about the reactions of women climbers in the media or on the blogs I visited.

Photos: Barbara Pagano

About Barbara Pagano

Barbara Pagano,Ed.S., author and speaker, influenced over 3,500 executives in organizations to achieve higher performance. She is now on a mission to help individuals extend their career arcs and craft lifestyles of productive longevity.
This entry was posted in Productive Longevity, Self-Management. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Will Life’s Disappointments Diminish the Promise of Your Potential in the Second Half of Life?

  1. Elizabeth McGuire says:

    Reminds me of line of poetry – Rumi, I think – that said something like: “Break my heart, break it again, so I can learn to love again.” Very insightful post…..thank you.

Would love to hear what you are thinking.