I have a wonderful friend who, although she lives here in San Francisco, we somehow manage not to see each other more than every three months or so because we both have very busy, very complicated lives. She offered the visual of “the long list of irritants currently whirling around like Dorothy in the tornado”, which I loved, because that’s a reasonably accurate description of both of our lives of late.
As any philosophy book, or self-help book, or therapist will tell you, your experience of life depends a huge amount on how you view life. When something is not as you wish it to be, if you view it as a problem, you set yourself up for difficulty and struggle. As a techie friend of mine would say, this approach is “highly non-optimal.” Life can be complicated all on its own – we don’t need to do anything to make it more so.
When I was growing up, my mother used to reply – regardless of what I was dealing with – “It builds character.” To which I’d reply, “I have enough character, Mother, I just want things to go my way.” (The joys of being an Aquarius with a Virgo mother.)
If you take the new age approach of viewing it as a challenge or opportunity, then you may or may not be taking a positive attitude, depending on how you feel about challenges and opportunities – and what potential upside you are able to convince yourself to see in the particular challenge or opportunity. Convincing yourself that having to clean up cat barf (or the philosophical equivalent that has just landed on your desk, in your email box, or wherever) is an opportunity for self-improvement requires more mental energy than I’m willing to expend.
For me, “challenge” and “opportunity” are code words used by my day job coworkers to say “hey, there’s a big fat messy situation heading for your desk, and I’m outta here!” Cleaning up messes is one of the things I’m paid to do (my primary job is to work with people so that messes do not happen; but, if messes do happen, my job is to clean them up), so I’m not going to complain about it. Nonetheless, I have a somewhat negative reaction to the “opportunities and challenges” viewpoint, because to me it allows someone to skirt around having to deal with what the real situation is, and quite often results in a lot of wasted energy and time trying to find the silver lining of opportunity. Sometimes there isn’t one – sometimes, things just suck.
Also, just because something is a character developing challenge and/or an opportunity to develop new skills, abilities, and coping mechanisms, doesn’t mean I have to be excited about it. I don’t have to like it, I just have to accept it – because until I accept it, I can’t do anything with/to/about it.
They’re not problems, or challenges, or anything else fancy, complicated, or ominous. They’re simply items on my To Do list, some of which I have chosen consciously, some of which I’ve chosen unconsciously, and some which have just been handed to me. I try to remember that I always have a choice about whether I deal with them. (Or whether I say screw it and go to bed – or change my hair color – or make a major life change.)
I don’t allow myself to trip about something being a problem, or a challenge, or whatever. No matter how complicated, messy, or downright awful it is, it’s simply an item on my To Do list, and my job is to figure out what to do with it, and the most efficient, effective way to do it and move on to the next item on the To Do list. Whether that To Do item is to prepare a Compensation Adjustment Form to give an employee a merit raise, or to prepare a Notice of Termination for unprofessional conduct, it’s not good, it’s not bad, it just *is*, and my job is to do it as well as I possibly can. Instead of stressing or worrying or dreading what I have to do, I just think about how to do it to the best of my ability.
Next time you find yourself fretting/stressing/dreading something – stop, breathe, and think of it simply an item on your To Do list – and see if that helps at all. I’d be interested to hear your comments!