This morning I was sitting on the sofa juggling banking minutiae and looking out at the blessedly clear skies and the happy people walking dogs in the thin-but-real sunshine. A man with a Goldendoodle walked past, and when his dog took care of business on the sidewalk, this horse's-patootie of a man just walked away. I was incensed. My coat was on and I was halfway out the door in slippers carrying empty Albertsons bags to "suggest" that maybe he'd forgotten something. But something stopped me at my door. Something more than the blast of chilly air. A quiet voice said to chill out. So I did.
And 15 minutes later, the nice man, who was clearly NOT a horse's patootie, was back, bag in hand, looking for the spot he needed to clean up. And I was glad I'd hushed myself. I was relieved not to have to smile sheepishly at him the next 874 times I see him out walking his dog. I was happy for that little voice, the one that so often helps me take a moment to reframe my assumptions about the motivations of others and determine if what I am chalking up to malice or asshattery could more easily be explained by ignorance, thoughtlessness, bad manners.
When I'm feeling pinned by circumstances, it is pretty easy to assign intention to the actions of others. Or corporations, banks, traffic lights, weather patterns. It is a pretty quick trip from "this sucks" to "why is he/she/they/it doing this to me?" And, of course, the other person, corporation, bank, traffic signal, driver, weather Gods are blissfully just doing what they do. Sometimes thoughtlessly or carelessly, but seldom with any intention at all as it relates to me and my (small) concerns.
This is one of the toughest realities I've wrestled with in my life. Acceptance of what is, that's the only way to get to the next step, the one where we deal with that reality. Assigning intention to whomever or whatever has "wronged" us is just a delay in the process. It has served me well, most of the time, to skip over that process and get rapidly back to what I'm doing to do about it.
The trick, then, is determining when it is good energy for me to try to exert some control or pressure over an outcome. Sometimes that's easy. If I don't like the way banks charge me punitive interest, I should double-down on my efforts to be debt-free. Not, as is so tempting to do, think that my dissatisfaction will in any way change their for-profit motives or actions. If I dislike the mission of my employer, I should look for another position. And driving is really simple--get my Zen mojo fired up, accept that I'm not in charge of the road or the people on it, and plan some extra travel time.
But it gets tricky when my sense of "I deserve better than this" or "I've earned better than this" butts up against my concern that I'm edging toward a sense of entitlement, which I think is a poisonous force in our country. When should I press for a bigger paycheck or a better title at work, for example, rather than being satisfied with the healthy paycheck and title I've attained? The answer has to be more complicated than a matrix of rules. It has to consider factors such as the economic climate I'm working in, the other factors that are driving my sense of inequality. During the years that my late husband was sick, I spent almost zero energy on these questions, and that was appropriate. But now it is not. I'm sure I was easier to manage, in many ways, when I had the major demands and distractions that I had 4, 5, 6 years ago. Because even in the midst of lots of other demands, I have always delivered professionally. Always.
But now, I'm wrestling with the question of how to use my work life for the next 15 or 16 years, and how to make space for the other things I plan to accomplish, the other parts of my life that deserve time. I've begun by accepting that work is an exchange, that Monday through Friday (and occasionally on weekends) I give a big chunk of my one and only today to my employer in return for pay and benefits. My job is not a definition of me, it is a job. Yay, me, I have a first step. Next has been trying to identify and put a value to the many intangible benefits mixed into this exchange; am I doing work that matters to me, am I developing others, am I able to solve problems, am I empowered to be successful, am I able to live where I want to live, am I able to leave work when I'm no longer at work, do I like the people I work with and the people I lead. And then the really uncomfortable questions, like gender equality within my industry, or my company.
And you know what? It can be paralyzing. It can make me less happy to spend all this energy on matters I've always trusted would sort themselves out if I keep doing great work and keep a positive attitude. And that, my friends, is a sign that I'm not feeling valued. Which could be valid, or could be a hint of that entitlement stuff I mentioned up there ^^. It will, I trust, sort itself out. With a little nudge here and there from yours truly.
In the meantime, I'm in the middle of the only today I'm going to get. I spent some time writing and some time in necessary life maintenance stuff, and now I'm going to queue up some background music and begin writing wedding thank-you notes.
Life is sweet! My best to all who happen this way.
Photo credit to the Facebook page "Peaceful Daily"