Look, this is going to hurt, but it needs to be said.
Nobody Else Wants to Hear You Complain
It doesn’t matter what it’s about.
You had a shitty day at work? So did most people.
Your Comcast rep was rude? Get over it.
You’re not fulfilled in life? Get in line.
Your problems are not your life.
Wait wait wait wait wait…
Who the hell am I to say this?
Who am I to tell you that you can’t complain?
Am I some perfect guy with a great life, or some rags-to-riches success story?
No. I’m just a guy who realizes that every time he complains about something, he feels like a weak bastard who’s wasting precious time and breath looking for sympathy instead of solving problems.
Granted, we all need to vent once in awhile or else we’d explode. Fair enough.
And yes, acknowledging that something is wrong is often the first step to changing it. (We’ll get to that in a second.)
But complaints without action have become chronic.
I know that social media is always on, and I think we all feel compelled to fill it up with whatever (allegedly) interesting thing just happened to us. You’ve been trained by past experience to know that posting another bitchy Facebook update is going to get its usual 20 likes and a dozen “ZOMG an even worse thing happened to meeeeeeeee” comments.
And yeah, all that public commiseration can temporarily feel good — like at least you know you’re not suffering alone.
I get that.
But complaining isn’t fixing.
In many ways, it’s the opposite — it makes things worse.
What you’re really saying when you complain is “I expect to be treated differently,” as if the universe should magically correct itself to accommodate you without you having to take any further action. And I’m sorry, but that’s just not how the world works.
Yes, groups of like-minded people working together for what the public considers to be in their own best interests actually can change how the world works.
But you complaining is not that.
And, more to the point, you are not a special snowflake for whom the world must change in order to please.
No One Else Cares About Your Problems
Please note that this is not the same as no one else caring about you.
But you are not your problems. (Unless you think you are.)
And if all you ever talk about are your problems, that distinction is hard to make.
The real reason no one really cares if you’re frustrated or angry — and hell, they barely care if you’re suffering or in pain — is because everyone else is also frustrated and angry and suffering and in pain, all the time.
We’ve all been dumped.
We’ve all been insulted.
We’ve all been overworked, undervalued, misused, ignored, and forgotten.
It’s not because the world is evil; it’s because the world is indifferent.
Life is filled with people who are just trying to get through it. The person who “did you wrong” wasn’t out to get you; s/he’s probably just dealing with his/her own shit, and didn’t have time to give you the experience in life that you think you deserve.
Now, you could take every slight personally, or you can just realize that…
No One Really Knows What They’re Doing Anyway
The truth is, life stops making sense after we leave school.
There is no syllabus for reality, and adulthood is really just full-grown children winging it and making it up as they go along, trying to please or rebel against their parents and their deities as they search for validation — every day, all the time.
We all expect life to be better than it is, and that means we all constantly wonder why it isn’t.
“Is it me?”
“Am I fucking everything up?”
“Is everybody else getting it right but me?”
Nope. We are all, literally, fucking it up equally.
That guy who just made you miserable? I guarantee you someone else pissed him off — either a few minutes ago or an entire lifetime ago, and he still hasn’t gotten over it. And the person who pissed him off was venting because she was irate about something that happened to her last week. And that happened because her cashier at Target is grumpy because he’s still depressed about the girl who left him last year.
We all know we should be above this… but we’re not. We all backslide into doubt and anger and frustration and self-loathing. We’re all wildly unconfident mortal vessels hoping nobody else notices just how fragile we really are, even as we simultaneously chip and dent and crack everyone else we bump into.
As a result, some people stop expecting the world to be better, and they actually start expecting it to suck. And that’s why…
Some People Are Just Terrible
Some people are racists.
Some people are sexists.
Some people are actual, literal, murderers — and others wish they could be.
Everyone is a tortured ball of self-doubt. For whatever reason, some people choose to deal with their own inadequacies by taking them out on others. They’re rude, insulting, offensive, demeaning, and — when they can get away with it — intimidating and violent.
And, unfortunately, those people also tend to run the systems we live in.
Sociopaths make great CEOs.
That’s because they have no problem gaming the systems that the rest of us prefer to compete in by following the rules. But if you’re willing to do anything at all to succeed, your odds increase exponentially, and that means the rule-followers are always at the mercy of the rule-breakers.
You want a meritocracy, but you really live in a food chain, and everyone’s terrified of getting eaten.
Our entire functional reality is governed by systems that can easily be gamed and exploited, from finance to politics to education to justice. If you try to “fix” those systems, you’re likely to be defeated or destroyed, because the people in charge of those systems have many more resources than you do. It might seem like your safest bet is to play along — and that’s enough to make most of us depressed or infuriated.
Changing any system takes action. It requires people to work together. And yes, sometimes a shared complaint can be the first step toward uniting with others who share your perspective — but only if that complaint coalesces into action.
“This sucks” doesn’t change a system.
“This sucks, and here’s how we can make it better” does.
And that’s why…
People Need You to Be Better Than You Are
The real problem about complaining is that when you complain, you remind everyone else just how much the world sucks.
But they already know that.
What they’re looking for are people who make the world suck less.
They want to see someone who suffers the slings and arrows of a normal day and still gets through it.
They want to see someone to whom the world says “no,” but who still finds a way to get their own shit done regardless.
They want to see the people in their own lives worry less about the little things and spend more time accomplishing the big things — or even just accomplishing the small things with grace and style.
It’s not because everybody wants to be actively inspired. (Some actively don’t.)
And it’s not because people want you to be a hero or a martyr.
People Need You to Be Better Than THEY Are
People don’t want you to shut up and take it because they think your pain doesn’t matter. They want you to power through it because they want to know it can be done.
People want a map.
They want an example they can follow.
They don’t need to know exactly how hard your journey has been; they just need to know that you made it to the other side.
Because if you can do it, they believe they can do it too.
And if you can help them along the way, they’ll learn how to help others.
Imagine what we could get done if we all pulled each other forward instead of dragging ourselves down constantly, and pulling everyone else down with us.
It starts with you.
It starts now.
And it keeps starting over, ever day, every time you feel like quitting.
When in Doubt, Keep Moving
As someone who’s wasted days, weeks, months, and years overthinking the frustrations in his own life, I say this with firsthand authority:
The worst thing you can do when you’re frustrated or angry is to dwell on it.
The more time and energy you spend on your problems, your challenges, and your perceived slights, the larger and more unscalable they seem and the more powerless you feel.
Conversely, the busier you are and the more people you spend time with every day, the harder it is for any one stumbling block to take up too much of your time.
Get busy. Stay active. Don’t be a sitting target for your own bullshit.
If It Hurts, Shut Up and Power Through It
Bitching wastes breath. Use that energy to get your job done instead.
This is not to say you can’t take a break.
This is not to say you can’t seek help.
This is not to say you can’t do whatever you need to do in order to process the current situation and come to terms with it and find a way to fix it, overcome it, outwit it, outlast it, or otherwise defeat it, absorb it, render it unable to hurt you, and move on.
I know we each do that differently, and that one person’s minor setback can feel like another person’s identity-destroying turning point.
But you can do it.
You can get over it.
And you don’t owe that setback any more of your time and energy.
The faster and more decisively you can steamroll through a problem, the less you’ll worry about future complications. And the fewer complications you waste time on, the more you’ll get done — and the more risks you’ll be willing to take, because you won’t see those obstacles as the life-pausing events they once were.
If you need help, ask. It doesn’t make you weak. But letting yourself be defeated because you’re too proud to ask, or too ashamed to be thought of as someone who couldn’t do it alone? That’s a weak self-image that you need to throw out, because it’s literally killing you.
And if you can help someone else, offer it. Heaven knows we could all use a hand.
Just don’t expect the world to automatically come rushing to your aid, because…
You Are No One Else’s Top Priority
With the millions of other things people have to worry about every day, you are very low on their list. If they’re going to make time for anyone, it’s going to be for someone they actually want to spend time with, not for someone who’s going to bring them down.
This also means that unless you’re dealing with a psychopath, you’re barely on the radar of whoever just annoyed you, so shake it off and keep living your life, not theirs.
Why would you waste your time and their time trying to demand love or attention or respect or basic human courtesy from someone who isn’t giving it to you by default?
If they’re not treating you the way you want to be treated, that’s their problem.
So fuck ’em and find a way around them.
But whatever you do…
Don’t Let Other People’s Attitudes Define You
Very few people are assholes on purpose. Most of us are just assholes by accident. But no matter how dismissive, demeaning, disinterested, or downright hostile someone else is toward you, their opinion of you is not you.
Your problems compound when you forget this, and you start internalizing their actions as your own self-image.
Someone was a dick to you? That doesn’t mean you deserved it.
Someone changed the way they feel about you — for better or worse? That doesn’t necessarily mean you’re different; it just means they are (or that their current perceptions are).
Shit happens. People change.
But people don’t change you unless you want to be changed.
You Control Your Own Story
I can’t make you stop complaining if that’s who you think you are.
I can’t make you live a better life; I’m just trying to live my own life better.
No one can make you do anything that you don’t want to do.
If you’re blaming someone else for holding you back, or falling short, or making you miserable, try reversing that angle.
How could you have handled that situation differently?
How could you see yourself differently?
How could you obsess less over what you think is wrong and start moving toward something better instead?
Once you get there, you’ll look back and realize all those things you would have complained about along the way never mattered. Nor did the ways everyone else saw you, or labeled you, or obstructed you, or expected you to fail.
And then you’ll have something much more interesting to talk about:
Outgrowing the old you.
One Final Caveat
I realize this whole post could be interpreted as “don’t ever complain even if something is clearly, debilitatingly, dangerously wrong,” which is not my intention.
Some things are horrible and they need to be corrected.
Some ailments just aren’t going to disappear on their own.
And some fears need to be addressed so you can stop fearing them alone.
We all have our own limits of tolerance, and if something truly distresses you, it’s up to you to decide where it falls on your tolerability scale and then take an appropriate action to correct it.
But if you’re wasting more time complaining about shitty customer service and pop culture trends than you are about the legitimate tragedies in life that morally repulse you, then you may want to rethink your resource allocation.
Image: The 2013 Swamp Romp by DVIDS on Flickr