How (And Why) To Crush The Dreams Of Others

If you can learn how to disappoint others, you have a fighting chance to do what you want to do, to go where you want to go, and to be who you want to be.

Frank Schaeffer was a part of the family business. Now he’s not, as I recounted in a related article.

Bart Campolo was a part of the family business. Now he’s not either, as I recounted recently.

Both were entrenched within the evangelical movement, enjoying recognition and goodwill as leaders who sought to make the world better.

Today, Campolo and Schaeffer both still pursue the dream of making a better world. But Campolo does so as a humanist chaplain at a university; and Schaeffer does so as a contrarian writer and artist.

Campolo and Schaeffer had beliefs and disbeliefs that they felt disqualified them from membership in their respective “clubs,” though they knew they could have kept mum and soldiered on. “I could’ve kept on crossing the t’s and dotting the i’s,” Schaeffer said. But he chose to express his own, evolving sense of truth, as did Campolo.

In return for their honesty, they were fiercely criticized. Many in their club admitted they had their own doubts too, but they called Campolo and Schaeffer traitors for failing to stand alongside them any longer within those shadowy valleys of doubts.

They would express their disappointment in a variety of ways. Some would tell them, good riddance; others would offer a passive-aggressive expression of charity, like, “I’ll be praying for your soul.”

Campolo and Schaeffer, for their parts, expressed a sense of liberation about the new directions of their journeys, as they expressed to me in separate interviews over the past week or so.

It has to be said that their newfound sense of freedom is tied to their willingness to let other people down—in many cases, people whom they love dearly.

This is a remarkable thing, given that most of us build careers of leadership or service precisely to please such persons. Much of our lives are organized to avoid disappointing them. This is far different from building a happy or healthy career, however.

A friend who’s a gifted psychologist once told me that the goal of a good therapist is to increase a client’s capacity to experience disappointment. I’ll go one step further by saying one of the chief goals of a healthy leader is to increase his or her own capacity to be a disappointment.

A sign of immature ambition is the belief that progress in your career involves eliminating criticism from others.

A sign of mature ambition is the belief that criticism is inevitable.

If you can learn how to disappoint others, you have a fighting chance to do what you want to do, to go where you want to go, and to be who you want to be.

And if you can’t disappoint others, you’re their pawn.

This is a tough one for many people who hail from traditional, duty-bound cultures, especially East-Asian and South-Asian ones.

The beauty of those cultures is that they bind human beings in a way that compels them to live their lives for something more than their selfish, individual impulses. The emptiness and ugliness of those cultures involve the tendency to punish individuals for not serving the right god or profession or web of tribal relationships.

We (largely) have the opposite dynamic in the West. But the cases of Campolo and Schaeffer remind us that our communities and cultures can “conformitize” us, even when we think we’re being autonomous individuals.

Campolo and Schaeffer could be commended for moral bravery in another way; they didn’t exchange the warmth of their religious flocks for the camaraderie of the militantly atheistic ones of Christopher Hitchens or Sam Harris. Schaeffer told me this week of how he disappointed many an atheist who read his memoirs, took glee in his departure from evangelicalism, then was crestfallen to find he hadn’t replaced militant orthodoxy with militant atheism. Hitchens even spoke to Schaeffer on the phone about the matter … and went away just as disappointed as many evangelicals did.

Thanksgiving, with the crush of family obligations and excruciating, guilt-inducing conversations, isn’t far off. Just remember the liberating power of developing the ability to stand there and be a disappointment to others. It’ll get you through the holidays and on to better places.

It’s a key step to becoming the person you truly want to be. And ultimately, the right people will no longer find you to be a disappointment.

Rob Asghar is the author of Leadership Is Hellwith all proceeds supporting programs to increase college access for under-served youth in the Los Angeles area.

“Opinion pieces of this sort published on RISE Networks are those of the original authors and do not in anyway represent the thoughts, beliefs and ideas of RISE Networks.

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