Reconsider Your Complaint

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If there is meaning in life at all, then there must be meaning in suffering. -Viktor Frankl


If you don't know Viktor Frankl, consider reading his book, Man's Search for Meaning. He was an Austrian neurologist, psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor. He wrote about his experience in concentration camps and the enlightenment he reached about making meaning from all life experiences, even the most unpleasant ones.

I've been seeing a lot of complaining on facebook lately, it's nothing new really. And friends have shared their grievances about their lives with me. Times are tough, I know.

I am not suggesting that people stop feeling bummed about difficult things. I recommend reconsidering your suffering and your complaint.

Consider that your life experiences are teaching you something, and it's possible that if you complain, you won't receive the message that's meant for you. If you're focused on the experience being a cause of suffering rather than a means for growth or evolution, it will persist.

Pema Chodron says, "nothing leaves our lives until it's taught us what we need to learn." I've seen this pattern emerge over time in my own life.

When something sucked, it usually kept sucking until I changed something about myself or the situation. When I wasn't able to change something, I usually changed my attitude about it, like Maya Angelou has suggested. Once I had moved on, I was able to see what life was trying to teach me, what the Universe was trying to give me or save me from and who I was now as a result.

This all may sound incredibly lofty and verbose. Let me give you a practical example.

I began my career as a teacher at the age of 21. I taught 5th and 8th grade for several years and loved it. I was really good with kids from a young age, so hanging out with teens was easy and fulfilling for me. During that time, I fell in love for the first time--and it was with a young woman. I myself identified as female at the time, or at least presented myself to the world that way, and so our relationship was rather taboo for where we lived in the year 2000. I never told my students. I never told my colleagues. Here's why:

One day, the vice principal walked into the room where my team of teachers sat for lunch and she announced that she thought several of the kids were "swishy". I had no idea what she meant. I sat, PB&J poised by my mouth, listening as she and the two older male teachers ran through our class roster and listed each kid they thought demonstrated homosexual tendencies. Being "swishy" meant gay, apparently.

Within a year, three months shy of being awarded tenure, I quit teaching at the age of 24. I left the career I had worked toward so diligently, because I was terrified I wouldn't be able to be my true self.

Taking that leap prepared me to take bigger ones throughout the next 10 years. It was the first of many times I realized that I couldn't thrive by hiding or acting my way through life.

For a while though, I complained about it. I kept telling the story that I "had to quit" because it wasn't safe. I told this story about a few other jobs I held, jobs where my skills, habits and patterns didn't match the environment or mission of the group at that time. I complained until I could see the bigger picture. I complained until I started to make meaning from the experience.

Years later, I am developing a thriving business as an independent coach and consultant and use each and every skill I learned to master as an educator. I draw on principles of leadership and classroom management and group facilitation. I factor in Gardner's theory of different learning styles and make my presentations dynamic, interactive and most of all, fun. I tell my groups, "hey, I taught 8th grade. If my kids had fun, I'll make sure you will, too."

If I hadn't chosen to make meaning from that experience, and instead spent the rest of my life complaining that I had to quit teaching due to discrimination, I would not be able to thrive like I am today. I would not be able to share my skills with groups, helping them learn and laugh and love their lives and their jobs more as a result. I would have left my talent sitting in a heap, stifled and stopped by the small minds of a handful of people. I know more than a handful of people don't approve of me or the way I live my life, but compared to the many who do, it feels like a handful I can handle.

I see people complaining about a lot of things that feel new, unsafe, uncomfortable or unfair.

They complain about traffic, the weather, being a parent, not being a parent, having coffee, not having coffee, losing love, broken phones, losing jobs or not getting their way about something.

Again, I'm not judging the complaints or the complainers. I complain, I just don't share my complaints on facebook, social media or these blog posts. I do that because I don't find anything inspiring about complaining, and I don't think my followers would, either.

I prefer to share whatever I come up with as a solution to the complaint I had. When I've worked through the problem, when I've made meaning from the experience, I share what I will use or do as a result.

Next time you find yourself struggling with something, feeling at a loss or overwhelmed or generally stuck in the muck in some way, reconsider your complaint and try to make meaning from the experience, instead. Reach out to friends or family to gain some perspective if that helps. Get out your feelings, vent the frustration you feel--it is a crucial part of the process of getting from point A to point B.

And share THAT, because we all need help and inspiration, more than anything else.


photo courtesy of Umberto Salvagnin on flikr