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What if it’s not a 'problem'?

My husband says something to me when I’m in a tailspin, swirling about all the things I have to do, expected and unexpected, simple and overwhelming.   I’ll be wringing my hands: Look at this list! There’s so much to do!

He’ll tilt his head and say to me:  “Nayla, did you think you’d wake up and there’d be nothing for you to solve, nothing for you to take care of today?”  

It’s his way of saying to me, ‘What did you expect would happen today?  Can you make some room in those expectations for reality?  And can we be okay with reality?’

I mean, I get it.  I don’t actually think there’s going to be nothing to do.  

I’m an adult, a wife and mother, a daughter, sister and friend, a home and business owner. All that stuff I want comes with responsibilities in order to keep them going.

And that’s a problem if I believe it’s a problem. 

I’m not for silver linings or false positivity, and I know some things we face in our lives are indeed Capital P Problems, but I am entirely for seeing choices where they exist. How I think about things that make up daily life - the laundry, paying bills, grocery shopping, changing the water filters, making doctor's appointments - and certainly how I talk about these things, is a choice.

I can choose to wring my hands, complain and bemoan that I don't have a full day prone on the couch, which is an entirely reasonable solution if I am indeed faced with a series of problems. But if I can see the tasks ahead of me as just that, a series of tasks I have to work through to get what I want (a clean house, a satisfying business, loving relationships, a sound body and mind) then things shift. I can build a reasonable, prioritized plan and get to it, while being supportive and fair to myself along the way.

I can stop calling my life a problem.

Work is particularly subject to this kind of name-calling. 

  • “So then I have this problematic colleague, who asked a bunch of different questions in the meeting that slowed me down…”

  • “So it turns out the EVP is going to be in the office on Thursday, rather than Friday, so now the problem is how to get my presentation ready in time.”

  • “Now, on top of everything else, I have the problems of an outdated resume and LinkedIn profile and I have to prepare for interviews I never planned to go on…”

Relationships can be complicated, and deadlines change, and undesired career pivots happen.  And we get to feel frustrated and complain and even grieve.  But the longer we harbor the idea that our careers and lives - that reality - is a problem, the harder it is to galvanize the energy to move forward with any creativity or hope. 

CS Lewis writes: “The great thing, if one can, is to stop regarding all the unpleasant things as interruptions of one's 'own,' or 'real' life. The truth is of course that what one calls the interruptions are precisely one's real life…”

You might be calling the pieces of your life problems or interruptions or distractions without even knowing you’re doing it, while in fact these very pieces are the building blocks of your real life, career, family, all of it.   

No doubt, these name-calling habits change how we see our responsibilities.  They drag us down. And even harder, these habits may be exhausting resources you need to deal with the truly demanding Problems in our lives (financial insecurity, our health and that of loved ones, issues that matter to us in the world.)

Maybe experiment with how you talk about the things that make up a career and a life and see if the edge softens just a bit.  

I'll be around, fight with reality a little less, and let me know what you find.

(A photo I took in a gallery in Asheville, NC in 2016.  Some lessons take a lifetime to learn.)


Can’t keep my mind off:

A book I randomly picked up and couldn’t put down: The Country of the Blind: A Memoir at the End of Sight by Andrew Leland.  It’s a memoir, yes, but also a social history and  an exploration of how we think about disability. 

I think about expectations a lot.  I wonder where all of mine come from, and what I can do to loosen their grip on me. Here’s a take from Ryan Holiday, Stoic-inspired:

I’ve come to admire the actress Merritt Wever lately, from Godless and Unbelievable.  Both programs are difficult watches because of the depictions of gruesome violence, so tread carefully.  Still, if you want to witness exquisite listening (something I didn’t think was possible to watch on TV!), watch this actress at work. 

Ten Percent Happier, the mindfulness app I use the most, celebrated their anniversary recently.  I get a bunch of free 30-day trials as a coach - if you want one, drop me a note.


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