I have an acquaintance, a women not much younger than myself, who recently spent an inordinate amount of time complaining to me about her life. She lost her job some months ago, so she’s feeling overwhelmed by the loss of identity that goes along with that situation. I expressed my empathy – it’s tough both losing, and voluntarily giving, a job that has defined your day-to-day existence for any number of years.
But then she went on to complain how overwhelmed she was feeling. Someone had asked her for a favor. I should explain that she and I are part of a volunteer organization. I’m about to be installed as the primary elected officer of our local chapter, and she holds an appointed office at the state level. She has held my position twice before, so she knows the work and time involved.
Here’s the thing: this woman lives at home with her parents, who happen to be paying all her expenses at the moment. She has never been married, doesn’t have children, and as I said, currently doesn’t have a job. And she was complaining to me about how overwhelmed she feels about someone asking a favor of her. In fact, she broke down into tears about a week ago over the whole situation!
Now, I’m not typically one to get into comparison arguments, but just as an FYI- in addition to this organization we are both involved in, I hold two – yes that’s right – TWO jobs, both teaching at local colleges. I am married, have three children who are each involved in their own activities which I support and participate in to some degree. I help my in-laws (both in their mid-80s) once a week with shopping and cleaning, and in my luxurious spare time, I write books.
And she is whining – crying even – that she is stressed out. I wanted to shake her by the shoulders and say “Stressed about what? I’ll trade you! Let me live with your parents and have them take care of me, and you go live my life for 20 minutes.”
Now, less you think I am heartless and rude, I didn’t say any of this to her. I thought it, I’ll admit, but I didn’t say it. In fact, I offered my friendship and support. I figured that her “stress” has more to do with her self-esteem at the moment than it has to do with her activity level.
I know another woman much like this, who complains constantly about bills and money, but who has an endless supply of excuses as to why she can’t hold down a job. She relies on her two ex-husbands for her income, and neither of them are very reliable for things like accountability and responsibility to others.
And lest we think this is only a female problem, a former friend of my both mine and my husband’s once complained that he wasn’t going anywhere in his life. He was convinced that all he needed was a new car, something totally tricked out, and he could attract any woman in the world (because we are all that shallow, after all) and then his life would be okay. This he confessed after moving into my basement because he’d been evicted from his apartment for not paying his rent for four months. He had a job, and when I asked him where his money went, he shrugged his shoulders. After two months of him living in my basement, I knew where it went: alcohol and cigarettes. I’m not a prude, in fact, I occasionally drink, too. But this man could DRINK. I personally witnessed him run up a bar tab that topped $100 – just for him – over the course of two NFL Sunday games.
Again, self-esteem seemed to be the bigger issue here. Sadly, after contracting pneumonia, complicated by a repressed immune system due to hepatitis B, our friend passed away. He was 40.
What’s my point? Certainly we are all allowed to wallow in our own little pity pools from time to time. It is human nature to complain about our situations, and to look for sympathy and understanding. But just as certainly, that should serve as motivation, if not as warning, that it’s time for us to make changes in ourselves and our lives. I’m reminded of my youngest daughter, who used to insist on wearing those plastic dress-up high heels to kindergarten. The teacher asked me to please dress her more appropriately, and I asked the teacher if she had ever tried to negotiate with this kid. Stubborn is a horrific understatement for that one. Instead, we waited it out, and one day, dressed in the shoes and a little skirt appropriate to summer, she realized on her own that this was not the best mode of dress.
“My feet are frozed,” she said to me when I picked her up that afternoon. She was practically crying.
“I bet they are.”
“But my feet are frozed,” she whined again.
“I’m sure they are,” I said with no emotion.
She continued to whine on the short ride home.
“Feet frozed,” she said, almost howling and tears welling in her eyes as we arrived home.
“Why do you think they are so cold?”
As if this were an amazing concept to her, she looked at her feet, then at me. “I need boots.”
I nodded, pointed to the pair of adorable L.L. Bean boots we had bought a few weeks earlier.
“I wear those tomorrow.”
“Good choice,” I said.
I had tried, begged even, to get her to wear the boots for days, but she insisted. When she realized that whining wouldn’t change anything, she was forced to find another choice instead. It was really empowering for her solve her own dilemma. And she was only 5. How is it that 40-year-olds forget this lesson so easily?