Epiphanies, or Taking a Page from My Own Playbook

A while back, when Ad was so depressed, I sat down with him and had a pretty serious heart-to-heart. He was grievously unhappy with his job, with himself, with some of the choices he’d made in life, and it was crippling him, leaching the joy from everything in his life and making him unable to move forward on anything. It was so very hard to see him that way, but also…a little frustrating.
Okay, a lot.
I live by the philosophy that we own and make our own happiness. “Don’t postpone joy,” is not simply a catchy phrase to me, nor is the idea that our lives are what we make of them. We make the choice every day to be happy…or not.
I can’t change some things in my life. And some of those things suck. I can change others though. If what I don’t like about my life is something I have the power to change – then I do. If it’s not, I accept it and move on.  It’s as simple as that. Accept the things I can’t change, change the things I can, and practice gratitude, daily. Find something that gives me joy each day.
So seeing Ad behave opposite of that, seeing him choosing unhappiness by his very unwillingness to change the things he could – or to accept those he couldn’t and let them go – was really difficult.  And I said so. Just as this same talk with him 8 years ago inspired him to make some tangible changes for the better in his life, it inspired him to take action this time too, and within a few weeks, he was feeling better about things and making some positive movement forward.
Flash forward to about 3 weeks ago, when my job became not just busy, but overwhelming. We’d lost a person here in my department, and so my volume of work was doubled, with no end in sight because they have no plans to replace her. I got a raise, but honestly not enough to account for the increase in work.  I love what I do, so this in and of itself was not that terrible. I understand the financial realities of working for a non-profit in this economic climate, and there are other compensations besides purely financial ones. And I am not adverse to hard work. My workload tends to be cyclical, so I assume at some point it will ease up a bit.
What I can’t tolerate is when someone else in my department isn’t putting in the same effort. She, too, had a job change. The other person left, she took over the other’s person’s job for the most part, I took back all of the things that she had been doing for me as my assistant and now do them myself. But while my actual workload doubled, hers just…changed.  Yes, she was thrown into a new job with a huge learning curve, but so have we all been. ~shrug~ Okay. But when I am working 7am-6pm here at the office, and then going home and working from 8-11pm or later, as well as weekends, and she is sauntering in at her usual 8:30 or 9:00am and leaving the moment our boss leaves at 4:00 (our “usual” hours are 8:00-4:30), and when she is doing that after I have asked her to do something to help when I am swamped, and she has said, “I just don’t have time!” well, I get a little pissed.
OMG did I get pissed.  W says I see the world in black and white sometimes. I know he’s right. I can be a little rigid in my understanding of right and wrong sometimes. And this…crossed every line of fairness and rightness to me.  And it went on.  And on. Over and over, every day as I grew more overwhelmed and more exhausted.  And I just got more and more unhappy, and more and more bitter, and frankly, I started to despise her.  I could barely speak to her and just generally resented the air she breathed.
But suddenly, it wasn’t just about her. Those feelings bled over into everything in my life.  It was awful. Everything was tainted by this anger I had inside me, this anger that I was carrying around like poison under my tongue, corrupting and polluting everything else.
Yes, there were other things going on. The stuff with W. Some personal stuff of his that affected me. Some getting sick stuff and family stuff and so much work. But over it all, clouding and distorting everything, was this anger and resentment I was carrying around inside of myself.
I don’t recall now (damn it) exactly what caused the change when it happened. All I remember is that at some point I was over at W’s, crabbing and venting and spewing my resentment all over the place while W, god love him, listened and lent me support. I wasn’t wrong in being angry. Hell, I had damn good cause. But in the middle of my rant it suddenly hit me: there I was, letting my anger at my coworker steal what little time I had with W from me. Suddenly I woke up and saw what I had let myself become.  I was wasting my precious energy and time on her–and she didn’t even know it and could care less about it. My anger was affecting me, not her.  Just exactly as Ad’s frustration with things he had no control over had caused him angst and anger that was negatively affecting his life, I was allowing my frustration with her to affect mine.  She didn’t know. She didn’t care. It wasn’t affecting her life. And here I was allowing it to poison mine.
I was giving her the power to control my life.
I stood there and breathed.  Thought about all that I had said to Ad only weeks before.  Saw what I was allowing the situation to do to me.  And…I let it go. Literally. I can’t control her, I can only control me. And I didn’t want to be that person anymore. I would not allow her to control me any more.
I walked into my office the next day feeling lighter than I had in weeks, as though a weight had been lifted from my chest. I can breathe freely again.  I can even smile at my coworker, as I used to.  I don’t even feel anger at her anymore, just kind of an underlying puzzlement: how can she feel good about herself like that?  But, bottom line: I can’t control her, I can only control me.  And I’m good with that.
“Me” is a woman with a pretty spectacular life. “Me” is a person with so many things to be grateful for and happy about that I don’t have room for the kind of bitterness I was feeling.  “Me” is a person I can be proud of; someone I’m glad – and grateful – to spend time with.
I think I’m on the road back.

6 thoughts on “Epiphanies, or Taking a Page from My Own Playbook

  1. Jade, longtime reader and learner 🙂 I simply wanted to thank you for today’s post. Been struggling with some similar issues lately, and reading this both reassure me there must be a way through, and gives insight into how I might go about solving them.
    Just keep swimming, thanks again 🙂

  2. Powerful post. Written very well. Thank you for making me think about how my own anger affects me and the people in my life.

  3. Thank you both for your replies. Anger is a complex emotion, and one that I struggle with. Not *being* angry, but expressing, and sometimes even *feeling*, it. That I don’t get angry often is (I think) a good thing, but what it sometimes means is that when I *do* experience it, I don’t always know how to deal with it. When I called this piece “Epiphanies” I meant it – up to that moment I had no idea how deeply it was affecting me and ( to your point, Lee) my relationships (a part I didn’t cover in this post, but which certainly was at the forefront of my mind when I finally had my realization.)

  4. Yaayy for you! When I have those moments, I reach for the serenity prayer and also for the thought that is my perception of a situation that governs how I react to it… if I don’t like it but I can’t change it, I need to change my perception of it in order to move on. It’s a necessary skill when you are at the beck and call of others, as I have found with non-profit organizations.
    ~Kazi xxx

  5. Great post Jade, I am a strong believer in attitude and perception affecting how we deal with things. I have recently had several aha moments in my own life.
    The hardest ones for me to deal with usually have to deal with anger/conflict. I don’t like it and have always run away from it. But learning year by year that it only hurts me.
    Thanks for sharing. I really appreciate it.

    1. Oh my, yes…conflict. I have an aversion to conflict that has at times bordered on the pathological. That, as well, has been a learning process for me: how to face and deal with conflict in a constructive manner. I still avoid it whenever possible (and actually have some pretty well-honed diplomatic skills) but I have learned that sometimes it CAN’T be avoided, and most importantly, sometimes it SHOULDN’T be. I think that this is another area that being submissive informs as well, and that is, at least in this instance, something to overcome, rather than embrace.

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