Stop Complaining, Embrace Gratitude Instead / by Jennifer Chan

 

As I finished an unanticipated three-hour long meeting, I breathed a quiet sigh of relief.

I looked around the conference table, where I had been sitting for the past six hours, and observed a workplace wasteland: stained coffee cups, sheets of loose paper covered in scribbles, and my sad, empty lunch container sitting beside my sad, dirty fork. It was 2:45PM and I had only put out one of many fires that were blazing throughout the day. Not to mention, I promised my girlfriend I would accompany her to a friend’s birthday dinner tonight – something I didn’t have time for but wanted to show my commitment to – and still had a few hours of work ahead of me. It was a tough day.

In that moment, I felt like venting. Should I text my girlfriend? Maybe an enraged Tweet that will garnish some sympathetic 'hearts' or 'retweets'? Or perhaps good ol’ Facebook, so my mom can write a supportive comment and offer to take me out for a free meal this weekend? All of the options sounded so satisfying.

But, much to my own surprise, I didn’t select any of the choices. Instead, I took a deep breath, adjusted my posture, and went quietly back to work.

Why?

The truth is, over the past month, I have introduced a new system into my life. The underlying aim of this system is to minimize distraction, procrastination and all-around lazy behaviour. Since I made a firm commitment to myself earlier this year to start taking writing seriously, I have been forced to think about how I spend my time. This is something legendary Gary Vaynerchuk labels as, “auditing your life.” I quickly realized that I had more time than I thought. I was just wasteful with it.

When I look back to how I was a few months ago, and still am sometimes to a varying degree, it terrifies me. All of the time I’ve wasted numbingly scrolling through social media, watching television and complaining about how stressed I was but actually not doing anything to mitigate that stress, could easily fill up days, weeks and perhaps even months. Let me be clear, I am not saying that those activities are terrible – I don’t think that at all – but I do think it has a time and place, and should be consumed mindfully. I just want to live with intention.

And so, I started waking up at 5:30am during the week. At first, it was difficult – I would set 3-4 obnoxious alarms. I would drag my body out of bed, rub the sleep from my eyes, and sleepwalk to the kitchen to start the kettle and pour the beans into the french press. Then, after taking a sip of warm coffee, I would take a seat at my desk and write in solitude for over an hour and a half. I would then make breakfast, pack my lunch, shower, and rush out the door to head to my daytime job as a lawyer.

In the beginning, it was painful. I am not a natural early riser. My bed is my favourite place in my entire apartment. Did I want to complain at the end of the day about how tired I was? Absolutely. But, I knew that writing was important to me, and waking up early was just part of the gig. And, at the end of the day, it was deeply pleasurable work. It was something that I wanted. And after about a week, I noticed that waking up early was getting easier and easier. In fact, I would wake up excited, knowing I was about to drink coffee and do something that I love. And now, weeks later, I am ecstatic when I head to bed at night, knowing what will greet me tomorrow. Do I consider waking up at 5:30am a chore? No. It’s a gift.

I share this story because, although my day job sometimes involves less-than-enjoyable tasks, it’s still equally meaningful. I purposefully chose a job that fulfills me. Similar to when I experience writer’s block, my day job is not always fun or easy. But nothing is supposed to be. The point of designing a life, and career, that you love is so the tough stuff doesn’t seem as bad when balanced with all the great things that come with it.

The good and the bad are all part of the same package.

Now, I’m not a robot. I do think, in some cases, it is appropriate – and even encouraged – to vent. For me, those situations tend to arise when I encounter someone or something racist, sexist or homophobic. When that happens, I like to send a text to my friend with the good ol’ *eyeroll emoji* and write out a brief sarcastic summary about what I just observed.  My friend will, lovingly, respond with a *poop emoji* or something of equal ridiculousness. Instead of bottling in my frustration, I find a way to laugh, grieve for the individual, and then move on. (And I mean sometimes you just need someone to validate your assumptions that some people just plain suck!)

But when it comes to work that you have chosen for yourself, I don’t necessarily see the intrinsic value in complaining. Yes, what you're going through is stressful and perhaps even unfair.  But, news flash: That doesn’t even pale in comparison to that other tougher thing that’s slowly making its way around the corner.

Life is a succession of overcoming one obstacle after another - and that's a good thing. Without the tough times, we wouldn't have anything to measure our progress against. 

We shouldn't wish for things to be easier. We should want to develop our resilience. 

The goal is to see the blessings buried within the obstacles. While you probably have every reason to be frustrated with your circumstances, your limited energy is better spent working through your problem rather than just talking about it. I don't mean to be morbid but time is running out. We all got an expiry date. So please, I beg of you, stop complaining and just do the work that you love. You owe at least that much to your craft, your loved ones and, most important of all, yourself.