20th June, 2023

Do I Disappoint Myself or Others?

With Rachel Morris

Dr Rachel Morris

Listen to this episode

On this episode

Disappointing ourselves and others is an awful feeling highlighted by guilt and shame. It can often lead us to act out regretfully as we attempt to mask it. Out of fear of its consequences, we resort to tiptoeing around others. This is most common in the medical field, where people tend to prioritise the needs of other people before their own. It could be why you may have difficulties saying no to people.

In this quick dip episode, I will dive into how you can deal with disappointment. Learn to understand your needs and take action. Understand it’s okay if you can’t do everything or please everyone.

If you’re a doctor struggling with stress because you are afraid to disappoint yourself and others, this episode is for you.

Show links

Reasons to listen

  • Discover the source of your disappointment.
  • Learn how to overcome your fears by saying no.
  • Explore the benefits of prioritizing your needs above others.

Episode highlights


The Fear of Disappointing Others


Sources of Disappointment


Consequences of Self-Disappointment


Prioritize Yourself and Your Needs

Episode transcript

Rachel Morris: This is a You Are Not a Frog Quick Dip, a tiny taster of the kinds of things we talk about on our full podcast episodes. I’ve chosen today’s topic to give you a helpful boost in the time it takes to have a cup of tea, so you can return to whatever else you’re up to feeling energized and inspire. For more tools, tips and insights to help you thrive at work, don’t forget to subscribe to You Are Not a Frog from wherever you get your podcasts.

Those of you who are regular listeners will know that I’m pretty obsessed with how to say no, and what will help us say no when everything in us is screaming out, ‘Don’t disappoint people, you should be perfect, you should always be able to give them what they want’. And recently, I’ve been struggling with a pretty big decision, which I knew would really disappoint somebody and I hate feeling like I’ve let somebody down or I’ve upset somebody.

I was just thinking about how I could change some of my mindset to actually make it a little bit easier and I looked at a list of topics that I have on my phone. So as I’m driving along listening to various podcasts or reading articles and things, I keep a list of stuff that’s jumping out at me, which I would love to do a podcast episode on. In fact, I’ve got several 100 of these little notes to myself, so I don’t ever run out of ideas.

Anyway, one of the notes to myself, I had written a few months ago. In fact, it was probably about six months ago. And I had written down a quote, I had heard from a podcast. Now I think it was We Can Do Hard Things by Glenn and Doyle, but I can’t guarantee that that’s where it came from. But someone had said on the podcast, that if there is a choice between disappointing somebody else, and disappointing yourself, then you should disappoint somebody else 100% of the time.

Now on first listen, that sounds to me incredibly selfish. It sounds like if we lived our lives by that principle, we would be a horrible, horrible human being. But it got me thinking about what the consequences are of not living our lives through that principle. And actually, is it really selfish to make sure we never disappoint ourselves?

I started to think about what does disappointing myself look like. And I started to write down all the ways in which I can disappoint myself, firstly, forgetting to send back that package, one of my children ordered from ASOS. So I’ve gone over the time, I’ve now lost the refund that I could have gotten. We’ve got this pair of jeans sitting around and there’s a pair of leggings sitting around that we just don’t need and nobody else wants. Failing to cancel the milk delivery, failing to use up all the food in my fridge before it goes off, all these things because I don’t have time, busy running around I just forget to do.

There’s a financial cost. That’s pretty trivial. But what about when I fail to spend time looking after my own health, when I fail to spend time buying decent food, and being able to cook nutritious things that I know my body needs. I end up just eating junk when I’m out and about or buying rubbish and bringing it home or snacking on colin the caterpillar on long journeys.

All these sorts of things I disappoint myself in mainly because I haven’t put aside the time to plan to do them. What about scheduling myself so tightly that I don’t have any breathing space? I end up at the end of the day with nothing left to give anybody else. And who bears the brunt of that? Well, it’s my family. It’s my other half, the grumpy Rachel, at the end of the day when I don’t put enough time aside to recharge my own battery. I disappointed myself, but now it’s starting to affect other people.

What about when I lose the plot with someone close to me, but I get really triggered and really upset when actually it’s about something else that’s happened during the day or during the week that I didn’t process I wasn’t self compassionate about and it just leaks out in another way? So when I’m so depleted that I’m unkind to the people I care the most about, I really disappoint myself.

Another way is worrying so much about what somebody thinks that I’m not clear with them about a no. And I may string them along and say yeah, that would be nice. And then they’re expecting something from me that I can’t give. I disappoint myself when I do that. Then I end up disappointing that person even more. What about not going on that course I’d like to do or not booking that retreat I would really love to do because I could be working harder? Or I could be doing other stuff or I could be spending time with relatives who really need me. I will become depleted again. I will lose out in the long run.

And finally, what about not taking those opportunities that might be quite fun, or might be scary, because I don’t quite know how they’re going to turn out. But actually, this road less traveled with all these things I could do, but because I’m too scared, and the future is too uncertain, I just let them go.

And the episode around Regrets of the Dying with Georgina Scull? That had such an impact on me, because the things people regretted, were things that they didn’t do. They had disappointed themselves because they were worried about disappointing other people, because the people they worked with at the time, thought it was a bad idea, or wanted them to do other things. Or maybe relatives had no, that’s not the right way to do things. And you’re so worried about pleasing people that you just give in.

So if I keep disappointing myself, the net effect is I end up disappointing other people almost 100% of the time. So maybe it is the case, that making sure I do not disappoint myself, and I only disappoint other people means that I am a better person. And it’s better in the long run for other people, too.

But we worry, don’t we? This feels really selfish to us. And what if we all lived our lives by that moral that we must never disappoint ourselves, but we can disappoint other people? Surely, we’ll turn into a bunch of psychopaths and a bunch of really awful, awful people.

But you know, I guess there are some people who would abuse this. We do know people who are totally Teflon, nothing sticks to them. They’re all about number one. They’re all about themselves. And they apparently go through life with ease, because nothing is sticking to them. They always put themselves first.

Now I’m not talking to these people. I’m talking to you guys: the doctors, the lawyers, the teachers, the health care workers, people who are constantly putting other people first, and often disappointing themselves in the process. I’m talking to the mothers and the fathers and the partners who feel such a burden of responsibility not just for their patients and their clients, but for their families, that they spend the whole day disappointing themselves at work, and then come home and disappoint themselves for the rest of the evening.

Because I’m asking you, what are the consequences — long term — of always doing that? Of always putting your needs last and feeling really disappointed. I’ll tell you the outcome for me when this happens. It’s resentfulness. And when I am resentful, I can tell you I am not a very nice person. And as much as I think I’m hiding it, the resentment just leaks out around the edges and either comes out as sort of passive aggressive comments, or revenge bedtime, procrastination when I’ve done stuff for everybody else all day. And I just stay up really late because I think I need to watch those three episodes on Netflix, because it’s the only time I get to myself.

Or it leaks out in actual aggression. You know, snide comments, or, you know, having a go at someone about something really innocuous, that really isn’t a problem. Because when I disappoint myself, I am frightened to say what I really think. I’m frightened to say what I really need. I’m frightened to say what I really want. And I don’t set those boundaries. I need to set this wall around my time, my energy and my attention.

Why do I disappoint myself? Well, it’s because of the stories I tell myself. Those stories that I’ve been talking about all year, there’s stories of guilt that I should do that stories of shame, that I’m not enough, I’m a bad mother, if I do that, or my bad doctor or a bad friend, if I don’t go above and beyond or the fear the fear of uncertainty, if I disappoint that person, what will happen? Will they withdraw from me? Will I lose my job? Will I never work again? Will they put in a complaint?

Those three toxic feelings of guilt, shame and fear. So if we spend all our lives disappointing ourselves as opposed to other people, all that happens is that everybody gets disappointed. Nobody wins. So what do we do about this? I have a few suggestions.

Firstly, recognize your human limits. Recognize you are only human, you literally can’t be in two places at once. Recently, I was wanting to meet someone for a drink at the station before we went into London. Meanwhile, another member of my family needed picking up and a lift home and both people wanted me to be there. And it was really, really tricky.

I was going to disappoint one person either way. I had to trust my guts and go with what I knew. Deep down I really wanted and thought was the right thing to do. I am only human. I don’t have a Time-Turner like Hermione. I can’t travel all over the place at the same time. I can’t be in two places at once. And I only have a limited amount of time and attention in the day.

So when we do disappoint other people, having a bit of self compassion is really important. You know, I put my hands on my heart and I go, ‘Oh, of course, you can’t do that, you’re human, you’ve got limits. And that is okay. That is okay.’

Secondly, I think we end up disappointing ourselves, because we don’t actually know what we really need. Sometimes, I genuinely think I can do 20 phone calls back to back, or I can go and run a training course for 20 people all day, get home, go out in the evening, or do a webinar and still be my normal self. Newsflash, I can’t.

So I need to start really working out what I need, I need a break here. I know that if I’ve had a heavy training day here, I’m gonna have to go and spend some time by myself the next day or just have some thinking time, I might need to go and hit a tennis ball around the court. I might actually not need to go and hit a tennis ball around the court, I might need to go and sit in a sauna, or just lie on a bed and read a book and rest. But many, many of us don’t know what we need.

But our bodies tell us, our bodies tell us what we need. And if you don’t know what you need, then start writing some stuff down, start writing some stuff that you feel that you need right now. A good question to ask is, ‘What do I need right now? And then how can I give it to myself?’

So you will be able to plan and predict what you need. Stop thinking that you are superhuman, and you will be totally fine after doing eight days of work back to back, you know, you won’t, you might be able to sort of plan and predict your breakdown on the ninth day. But maybe you should plan and predict a break halfway through or a weekend off afterwards.

You know, what would you normally do? How do you recover best from long spades of work? And how can you put that in? And how can you put that in weekly, monthly or yearly? That real rest of replenish and recharge and what do you do to recharge? So you’d like to go and see someone for a really great chat? Do you like to go to the cinema? Do you like to go out for a drink with friends? Do you like to cook a really great meal?

Work out what you need and then do it. You also need to check these stories in your head, the ones I mentioned earlier, the ones around, ‘I ought to’, ‘I should’, ‘What will they think?’ And even though we often can’t change these stories, because they’re deeply ingrained in us, we can have other stories, other truths that speak just as powerfully to us, and are opposite of those ought, should stories. You call this should-ing and ought-ing on ourselves.

Okay, now I’ve just got a new picture at the back of my room. If you’re watching this on YouTube, you’ll be able to see it, you’ll just have to imagine it if you’re not. It’s wonderful. It’s a picture of a beautiful bunch of flowers. And it says ‘You can’t always be in bloom’. Whenever I think I should be superhuman, I just remember that picture.

The other things I like to remember is, it’s okay to make mistakes, sometimes I’m gonna get this wrong. And it’s okay to disappoint people and nobody likes to be disappointed. So if they’re cross with me or upset with me, it does not mean I am a bad person. And I can’t meet everyone’s needs all of the time. And if I’m not meeting my own needs, I certainly can’t meet anybody else’s.

So I start to replace these stories in my head with power language. So I am choosing to take this afternoon off on my own so that I can replenish and be okay tomorrow. Even if I have to say no to that person that really wants a piece of me. I’m choosing to say that even if it’s the power language that we just all need to use all the time and we’ll do another podcast on power language, it’s been a real game changer for me. We’ve got other podcast episodes on this: eff it. just eff it, we do our best.

We do our best with what we can and the outcomes, we can’t change. So if someone’s upset with us or cross with us, because we’ve disappointed them, sometimes all you can say is ‘Eff it’. I can’t be superhuman. And I love the relief that I get from just saying that.

Maybe I am a little bit too swearing in my head, but there’s something about that connection between the left brain and the right brain because the swearing bit is in your right brain. And effort just lets us let go of the outcomes, you know what? I can’t do anything more. I can’t change this.

And that’s helpful, isn’t it? Because we know that stuff that’s outside of our zone of power, that’s outside of our control, what choices do we have? Well, the only choice we have is to accept it and say eff it. It really is.

So we need to learn to disappoint others instead of disappointing ourselves because it’s only by choosing to meet our needs, which might mean disappointing other people that we can choose to meet the needs of our friends, our families, the people that need us both. It is not selfish. It’s vitally important.

So if you’re stuck willing to say no and to choose you then download I’ll Say No toolkit. The link is in the show notes and if this episode was useful then do email it to a friend and say ‘I think you need to have a listen to this’. You know those people those over givers the people that are constantly knackered because they’re just doing so much for other people, and just maybe gentle nudge, be a bit more selfish. Go well, choose yourself and I’ll see you in the next episode.