My work with young adults in education, across two decades, has seen me confront apathy, anger, disappointment, fear, boredom, insecurity, and confusion, as barriers to both learning and personal development, but the most difficult emotion to respond to is frustration, as it wears all those elements in some form or another.
Frustration, according to Merriam’s Dictionary, is to my mind the most precise explanation of how it has the potential to affect us all, and yet signposts starkly the potential for considerable effect upon student learning, defining it as, “a deep chronic sense or state of insecurity and dissatisfaction arising from unresolved problems or unfulfilled needs.” It is not only a dictionary definition, but a definitive statement as to a state of mind, or being, that we must ‘put to bed’ to move life, and learning, forward.
You have never been frustrated? You are a fibber! You have always, no matter how modest or how grand, had expectations of yourself, and others, and when they aren’t met, that’s frustration. It’s human nature, and often an effective personal, professional, and scholarly quality, to link expectations and outcomes to time, it’s goal setting as it should be. However, we do tend to get to those objectives, and instead of simply giving ourselves more time, let the negative perspectives fuel our emotional instability, feeding frustration. We may only be a couple of steps away from success, but our intolerance of failure tends to take us ‘the long way around.’
What we need to do, instead of seeing our failure as a sin, a pernicious antagonism, is to laud what we have achieved, basking in the positives, instead of sinking into that swamp of discontent, and far too quickly into frustration. We become almost paranoid, thinking the world is seeing our ‘failure,’ that ‘every man and his dog’ knows not what we have achieved, but what we have not! The world invites us to see the worst in ourselves... so why don’t we simply reject the invitation? Probably because we have humility, that most human of qualities, and perhaps in a society as gentle, as humble, as that of the faith, even more so.
Frustration is not only a personal issue, but we do have expectations of ourselves, and those close to us, whether friends or family. For many of us our entire lives are built upon relationships, those we love and care for, and in this we are absolutely driven towards perfection. That’s unfair of course, perfection is a fantasy, a dream, something of poetry, music, and the stage, and yet, time after time, we form hyper-expectations of ourselves in our relationships, and those we seek to achieve perfection with. You don’t believe me? When did you last ‘like’ someone, and not want to embrace them, to love, to cherish them, and to put them on a pedestal?
Conflict too frustrates us, and oh so stupidly! Whether it’s at home, fighting over the TV remote, not wanting to eat your dinner, staying out too late. Or maybe it’s school, talking when you should have been listening, homework not done, or not doing your best. In the workplace, how about that promotion you were expecting that went to someone else, suddenly, that colleague has become an object of scorn. Or even worse, when someone you don’t know, on social media, ‘disses’ you. It never stops does it, and how much energy do we waste on the hurt, and how much frustration does it engender?
Motivational frustration occurs because we are always being, correctly, motivated towards success, and as a tool for making us understand that our capabilities are infinite, at the same time fuel disappointment when we don’t get there... when we don’t get an ‘A,’ when we don’t get the Gold medal, when we don’t get there!
It is difficult to achieve balance in life, but frustration does not signpost failure, but indicates that success is close, and maybe all you require is a different approach.