September 22, 2009

Are you planning, doing or just talking?

I just had coffee with an old friend. We see each other pretty frequently, which is probably why some of the things she said struck a sour note for me. "I think we’re going to have to give up health insurance," she said at one point. Then later, "They won’t give me more hours at my job; I’ll have to quit the only job I’ve ever loved."

Ordinarily those kinds of comments would be cause for sympathy, empathy, pity, charity – almost anything except exasperation, which I have to admit is what I felt when I heard them. I do remember feeling the softer emotions when she first raised these points – oh, say six or seven years ago.

The thing I realized over coffee today is that my friend has been struggling with the same issues and career questions for the better part of a decade.

Man, enough already. It’s time to make peace with the situation as it stands, or to make a plan to change it, or to pick up more jobs or … something. But to be sitting on the same problem for several years? That shouldn’t even be a fallback option.

So what did I say to my friend? "Pass me the cream, please." I couldn’t bring myself to challenge her, partly because I’d been down that path before. When I suggest solutions – and honestly, they’re not all lame ideas – she always provides reasons why they won’t work. My conclusion is that she doesn’t really want to solve these problems, or at least that she’s not ready to right now, for reasons she’s not sharing with me.

Fair enough. So my role is not to provide solutions or to challenge my friend, but to give her a chance to express her fears out loud. Done. My other job? To be sure that I’m learning more from this situation than how to bite my tongue. Which, by the way, is not a bad lesson to learn.

Walking home from our coffee date, I decided to take an inventory of my own struggles, to figure out which ones had become companions instead of problems to solve. I hate to admit it, but I think I’ve probably been doing the same thing as my friend, only with a different set of issues.

Excuse me, but it’s time to go do a little spring cleaning in my complaint closet.

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