Posts Tagged avoiding frustration
Our two college students returned home for their spring breaks, a little over a week ago. A close family with students 500 miles apart, we had been looking forward to this time since their Christmas break.
Typically, we spend our limited time together visiting our favorite restaurants and meeting with friends and family. COVID-19 changed all of that. Now, we can’t do what we want.
As someone who has lived with physical limitations for most of my life, I have substantial experience not being able to do what I want. This what I’ve learned.
When you can’t do what you want, the first impulse is to complain. That’s understandable, but before long, you’ll figure out that complaining gets you nowhere and usually only leads to more misery. My parents had no tolerance for self-pity or complaining. They saw me suffer through tests and operations, and struggle to do things that my classmates could do. They knew what I was going through wasn’t easy or fair, but they never allowed me to feel sorry for myself. Instead of self-pity and complaining, they taught me that I could be happiest through self-reliance and resilience. If you can’t change it, learn to live with it.
Focus on what you CAN do. No matter who you are, there are things you cannot do. You might not be able to afford a dream house, travel as frequently or extravagantly as you want or star in a rock band, but that shouldn’t stop you from being happy. Hunting has taught me this lesson. Though my limited mobility keeps me from exciting stalks and limits my access to challenging terrain, I’ve found ways to enjoy my passion and even experience success from time to time, by focusing on what I can do.
The same thing is true with our current social limitations. Maybe we can’t go to our favorite restaurants or sporting events or have a huge party with our friends, but we can enjoy a game of cards with our family, take a nap by the fire or cook a gourmet dinner. We might have to be creative to exercise, socialize and work, but there are things we can do.
Appreciate small, simple things. Nothing brings blessings into focus like adversity. Several years ago, after going to the gym and showering, I threw my back out getting dressed. For three days, I couldn’t stand up straight or even tie my shoes and dress myself. I remember lying in bed wanting a shower, and wondering if I would ever be able to shower in the same way again. Eventually, my back healed, and I’ve been fortunate never to experience anything like that since, but I definitely gained an appreciation for showering that I didn’t have before.
The COVID-19 situation should have the same effect and leave us with extreme appreciation. Before things got turned upside down, I appreciated the ability to dine out and freely socialize, but that appreciation has since heightened to unprecedented levels. Plus, I’ve learned to appreciate less obvious blessings.
Last night, unable to visit a favorite wing and pizza restaurant, we ordered take-out from them, and though only one of us went in to retrieve the order, our entire family went on the drive. If things were normal, we would have met friends at the restaurant or, if we ordered take-out, only one of us would have driven there in silence, while the others continued their individual activities. Instead, all of us jumped on the opportunity to get out of the house, and we enjoyed a lively conversation to and from the restaurant.
No, we can’t do what we want, but that shouldn’t keep us from doing what we can, while learning and appreciating what’s truly important.
I can make the trip from my office to my home in 17 minutes, if traffic and lights cooperate, and in 22 minutes, if they don’t. I’m embarrassed to admit how much anguish that five-minute gap has caused me.
When I leave my office, my mind is often dulled from a day of recruiting talent. Though I enjoy what I do, being an executive recruiter can be very frustrating. Because we deal with rejection and disappointment daily, recruiters must be extremely persistent and remain unshaken by failure. Almost as important, they need to be able to switch off negative emotions at the end of the day. That’s often a challenge.
When I get into my truck and head into traffic, I often take the frustrations of the day with me, and that causes me to lose perspective. When I should be unwinding from the day and looking forward to the blessings that await me at home, I dive right into frustration, which is insane, because so little of my commute is within my control.
I can’t control how many red lights will stop me or how many blue-hair-driven Buicks will slow my pace. In my saner moments, I rationalize that God controls Buicks and red lights, and he uses them to remind me who’s in charge and what’s really at stake – 300 seconds. It’s easy to see that when I’m not staring at taillights, but when I’m on the road, those five extra minutes seem so much more important than they really are.
I believe that unbalanced perspectives like this are common in many areas and that they cause us way more stress than they should. Maybe someone doesn’t return our phone call as quickly as we think they should, and we assume that they’re indifferent to our relationship. Perhaps a temporary illness slows us down or causes us to miss something important to us. It can seem like a rain cloud hovers over our proverbial parade, if we lose our perspective.
I recently saw a sign that said, “Did you really have a bad day or have 15 bad minutes that you allowed to ruin your day?” We have all had truly bad days, but fortunately, the truly bad days are few and far between. Most of the time, a bad day is the result of our reaction to a disappointment, and we made it a bad day because we carried that disappointment with us through the rest of the day when we should have left it in place.
I’m currently reading a book that I highly recommend to anyone who recognizes this misbalanced perspective in their own life. The title is “The Gift.” It’s written by Rhonda Byrne, and is a sequel to her popular book, “The Secret.” The theme of the book is that appreciation shields us from negativity. When we’re truly appreciative, we’re impervious to negativity.
If we take time to count our blessings, we don’t have time to tally our frustrations and disappointments. When we’re truly appreciative, even if we recognize our frustrations and disappointments, we’ll put them in their place – deep in the shadows of our blessings.
I try to do that now, when I feel those frustrations bubbling up on the road. Instead of focusing on other drivers who don’t drive to my expectations, I think about the blessings that await me at home. Instead of focusing on the minutes ticking by as I wait for a light to turn green, I am quietly thankful for the comfort of my transportation. Without it, I wouldn’t have the freedom to travel virtually anywhere I want, at any time and in any weather.
If I’m successful in being truly appreciative, before I know it, I’m home and happy, because I didn’t let those 17-22 minutes pollute my mood. That sure beats the alternative.
The holiday season is also often the season of unrealistic expectations. Fed messages of the perfect Christmas throughout our lives, we create an ideal in our mind that is almost impossible to reach, and when we don’t reach it, we feel guilt and/or disappointment, when we should just enjoy the moment.
If you expect perfection while involving other people, and you schedule during unpredictable weather, you are setting yourself up for frustration. If you drag out the nice china and allow little kids or drunk uncles to use it, you are setting yourself up for frustration. If you spend hundreds of dollars on gifts and expect commensurate appreciation, you are setting yourself up for frustration. If you can’t simply be happy when other people are happy, you are setting yourself up for frustration.
Don’t set yourself up for frustration. It’s the holiday season – a time when we’re supposed to be appreciative and spiritual. Giving up any of this precious time to frustration is extremely wasteful.
Help yourself avoid holiday stress by surveying the landscape ahead and trying to identify frustration before it’s upon you. It’s really not that hard. Because tradition, ceremony and habit play heavily into the holiday season, holiday frustration is more predictable and easily identifiable than everyday frustration. Look back at last year and the years before that. Note what made those days enjoyable and do more of that. Likewise, admit what detracted from enjoyment and do less or none of that.
Admittedly, that’s easier said than done, because OBLIGATION is involved. Obligation can be a good thing; taking time out of your weekend to attend a religious ceremony or stopping to see Grandma when you are in town are good things that don’t always appear as high on our priority list as they should. As my parents often explained to me during childhood, especially on holy days and when going to mass on weekends, sometimes you just do things, regardless of your wishes at the time.
It’s the gray, often unwritten area of obligation that causes us the most stress. Which events do we attend? How long do we stay? To whom should we give gifts, and how much should we spend? How extensive must our preparations be when we host family and friends? When we consider these questions, obligation too often is the deciding factor. Prioritizing obligation over fulfillment leads to unnecessary stress.
In our first few years of marriage, my wife and I lived in North Carolina, about three hours from her parents and three hours in another direction from her sister’s family. When we went for weekend visits, the expectation/obligation was to stay until mid-afternoon on Sunday. The problem with that was, because we didn’t arrive home until Sunday evening, we didn’t have time to take care of chores like laundry and grocery shopping that also didn’t fit in our work weeks. After our first few trips, we started leaving right after breakfast, and, though it took a little explaining and a little adjusting from the family, they learned to understand our motives. The people who really love you will understand when their expectations become frustration-producing obligations for you.
When someone releases you from your obligations by modifying their expectations of you, be ready to reciprocate. Be happy when other people are happy, even when that requires sacrifice.
There are times when we must push aside our own preferences to make way for another’s happiness. We’re going to find ourselves in a crowded room of children and noise or a company party held loosely together with uncomfortable conversation. Maybe we’ll have to get dressed up and pose for pictures. We’ll want to be elsewhere, but the ability to squash those emotions and find happiness in the happiness of others can be the difference between holiday frustration and the spirit of the season.
Learn to live in the moment and look for happiness from all angles. Do your part to make others happy, while not forgetting your own happiness and sanity, and you should have the holiday season you deserve. If you can do it every day, you’ll have the life you deserve.