on disappointment

a strength that comes with age, to my utter satisfaction, is the diminishing of Fears of Unusual Proportion. those situations or conversations that years before might’ve rendered you weak in the knees with stomach in knots are now set in relief against such a breadth of life experience that their power over you is a fraction of what it used to be.

View from the Pride Inn, Nairobi

this is not to say that fear is eviscerated. i think that only comes after a lifetime of transcendental meditation, or the sudden bequeathment of super hero powers. i’ve achieved neither. in fact, i’ve noticed that old fears are replaced with newer ones more concerned with community than ego, with inner well-being than with outward presentation. nevertheless, difficult conversations and weighty responsibilities are more and more the things I push through, small prices for a career, or a more robust relationship, or growing up.

Breakfast including yarrow root, sweet potato, chicken sausage, and the best instant coffee I’ve had yet, Nairobi.

but when it comes to conquering one particular fear, I may be a late bloomer: disappointing others. last week I had a triple-threat lesson in this particular theme, and came away humbled but less traumatized than I might’ve been. while only a few years ago, and especially in my youth, I would’ve contorted myself, manipulated the truth, even run and hid just to avoid the intense psychic pain of letting others down, I don’t have that energy in me anymore. Or rather, I prefer to reallocate that energy to more constructive and meaningful venues. It still smarts a bit, disappointing people, and it knocks me down a peg: I’m not as knowledgeable about this topic or as prepared as I should be; I’m sorry you’ve waited 4 days for your payment but it’s still not ready; That report is a week overdue and there is a constellation of explanations but in the end, I’m responsible and I’ve fallen short; I’ve been meaning to have/make/conjure up time to meet you, call you, break bread together, but it just hasn’t happened yet.

Working from an outdoor perch in a Nairobi office compound

I’m learning to accept my essential me inclusive of my limitations, and accept the reality of what’s feasible within the space-time continuum of this lonely galaxy, calculating with inherent imprecision the number of emails, squats, scrambled eggs, case studies, food-in-kind deliveries, dog walks, trips to the market, unconditional cash transfers to drought-stricken nomads, minutes spent in appreciation of humans, animals, flowers, fruit, purled stitches in the ugliest blanket ever knit, and so on and so forth, that can fit in a week or a fortnight. that’s not entirely honest; I don’t actually calculate. I just keep going. But when I fall short of expectations I’m more and more able to face it. What I managed wasn’t enough this time, and I’m sorry. Let’s make a new plan and move forward, try again. And again.

Supper with myself (in front of a mirror) at the extraordinary La Salumeria at Valley Arcade, Nairobi


I sent a Whatsapp message to a friend yesterday that got to the heart of this particular fear, at least for me. Something along the lines of We will get together, it will happen, keep the faith. I think that potential loss of faith is the crux of the issue. I wouldn’t want my inability to meet a deadline or make time for a shared lunch or dinner to be perceived as disinterest, unwillingness, or a lack of love. But I can’t control perception, and that’s the liberating aspect of age and growth. I suppose what I’ve learned is the difference between disappointing others, and disappointing myself, and with time my priority has shifted from the former to the latter. I can only face myself in honesty, try again to do right by people, and practice making time for the things that matter most.


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