Life’s Troublesome Experiences

Charlie Brown is the lead character in Charles Schultz’s cartoon series Peanuts. According to Schultz, Charlie Brown is “America’s prototypical loser. He’s the one who suffers.”

On the surface, this is an apt description of Charlie. As Schultz portrays him, Charlie is America’s everyman, a person who’s naive, at times even foolish. For sure, Charlie is certainly too trusting; too simple really because he never ever seriously questions whether Lucy will honor the trust he places in her, regardless of how many time she pulls the football away from him just as he’s kicking it.

Nonetheless, with respect, I disagree with Schultz’s characterization of Charlie. I don’t see him as “America’s prototypical loser.” Rather, I see Charlie as a person who simply sees themselves as too busy with their life to stop and question any of the hundreds of vague life experiences that, under the best of circumstances, he encounters everyday. Experiences that, any way you look at them, are hard to interpret.

For me, in today’s 21st Century world, Charlie is a not a looser. Rather, he is a portrait of you and me, nose down into our day-to-day responsibilities. Too preoccupies with life’s every day demands to take note of any one of the ordinary missteps and disappointments that trouble us, sort of.

In today’s complex world, Charlie represents the person who hasn’t yet been taught why he should take note of at least some his life’s missteps. Especially the ones that sort of, in the back of his consciousness, trouble him. Consequently he’s become someone who doesn’t know how to take note of the people and events in his life that persistently confuse, frustrate, or disappoint him. Most importantly, Charlie is someone who does not know how to consciously pause long enough to recognize the disappointments that the Lucys in his life all too often offer him.

Essentially, Charlie’s the person who prefers to hold onto his expectations he has of life and his friends, especially those that he developed growing up. Rather than occasionally looking at his life from a distance for the lessons it holds about the validity and reliability of his expectations, he simply goes on living his life as it comes. Persistently kicking at the metaphorical footballs that our Lucys are holding for us is exactly what we do whenever the people and situations in our lives don’t match up with our expectations. Charlie, as I see him, represents those of us who haven’t yet developed the skills they need to learn from their experiences they have with the Lucys in their lives.

As strange as this may sound, I believe it’s important for us to notice the moments in our lives when our real-life’s experiences don’t match our expectations. For all of us real-life “Charlies,” the lesson I’m pointing to is the idea that making our lives as good as they deserve to be only begins when we start recognizing the tiny, barely noticeable disconfirming experiences that we encounter almost every day. Disconfirming experiences, whether at home or at work, are life’s way of challenging our family-bred expectations. These experiences, when the occur again and again, are there, I would suggest, to show us when, where, and how our earliest views of how the world should work just might be outmoded. Or that they may have been made obsolete by events, circumstances, and situations that we never imagined — like 9/11, the 2008 recession, and today’s coronavirus pandemic.

Disconfirming experiences are the events and situations that come into our lives whenever a situation we’re in doesn’t meet our expectation. Or, whenever we encounter someone who doesn’t behave the way we expect them to.

Disconfirming experience show up in our lives whenever things happen to us that we don’t anticipate.

Speaking psychologically, you can say that an event, situation, or interpersonal experience is disconfirming when it doesn’t sync with your personal models of reality. Or, when we experience something and sense that this something doesn’t match with the presuppositions about life we believe in. Disconfirming experiences confound you, fluster you, and put you in a place where little confusions, tensions, and anxieties tingle in your body just below the surface of your consciousness.

None of us really want to be our own personal version of Charlie Brown. We are though, whenever we slough off the “aaugh!” moments in our lives. Whenever we persistently turn a blind eye to the confusions, disappointments, and anxieties tingling just slightly off camera, we’re becoming our own versions of Charlie Brown.

Noticing instead of ignoring these “aaugh” moments is the way out of our “auugh” moments.” And the way into our opportunities for transformational learning.

Transformational opportunities emerge out of our life’s disconfiming experiences in when:

  1. We’re able to feel the sensory tingle of our anxieties,
  2. We name them as a disconfirming experiences, and
  3. We begin wondering just a bit about what the central assumptions or beliefs are that lie unnoticed in these disconfirming experiences.

When we start doing these three things, we’re on our way to being able to examine our faulty beliefs, reframe the specific behavior patterns that have created our disconfirming experience in the first place, and open a doorway to truly important transformation. They are the first steps into a meaningful transformational learning journey.

There’s no doubt today’s new complexities are pushing us hard to revamp our understanding of our selves and the newworld we’re now living in. One of the ways we’re being pushed, as discussed above, is noticing and responding to our life’s disconfirming experiences.

Thanks for reading this article. You can find more information about what learning how to live in an newly uncertain world is going to require at Transformational Learning



I’m a dad, a reader, writer, and thought partner for individuals looking to improve their lives. My passion is learning and meeting this century’s challenges.

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David Nicoll, Ph.D

I’m a dad, a reader, writer, and thought partner for individuals looking to improve their lives. My passion is learning and meeting this century’s challenges.