“It’s hard because … “
“I have too much to do … “
“He makes me so mad … “
I found out that I complain a lot. And I’m completely shocked by this discovery. If you’d have asked me if I consider myself to be a complainer, I would have confidently told you that I’m a proud optimist, filled with positive, productive thoughts (also sugar, spice and everything nice). But after running into the official definition of “complain” recently — “to find fault or express dissatisfaction” — I couldn’t help but start to hear myself, well, complain. And it turns out I complain a lot.
I suppose there’s no need to call a press conference, but don’t you agree this is a big deal? I mean, I’ve been doing something — and doing it often — and have had no idea that I’ve been doing it at all. Isn’t that a little scary? Complaining is such a normal part of my everyday dialogue, it’s background noise I don’t even pick up.
And I was so sure that I wasn’t one of those people. We’ve all had that complaining friend, right? You know, the one who can’t stop whining. About her boss, her husband, her appearance. Whine, whine, whine. It’s like a disease. And here I am suddenly noticing I have the same symptoms. They may be subtle, but now I can’t deny that I have them. Sure, I’m not outright whining like our infamous friend, but when I say things like, “It’s such a nightmare for me to find parking there” and “He is so condescending,” regardless of whether or not I think I can justify those realities, the bottom line is that I am finding fault with people and events, expressing my dissatisfaction. I am the definition of “complain.” I have the disease too.
And it’s a contagious one, it seems. After receiving my reality check, I started to listen differently to the background noise in the dialogues around me. And lo and behold, here’s what you’ve been saying: “Ugh, Monday,” “He’s a jerk,” “I hate these stupid meetings,” “I’m bad at that,” and “It’s such a hard industry to break into.” You, my friend, are a complainer too.
I know, the truth hurts, doesn’t it? Well, at least we’re in this together. Although, I wonder if that’s actually more disturbing. The reality that is now apparent to me is that most people complain a lot. This is the norm. We have created a culture of complaining around ourselves, and we feed into it every day.
And not just with our words. Our actions are complain-y too. We slouch, roll our eyes, sigh, and give less than 100 percent. We may not be saying a single thing, but we’re screaming out our dissatisfaction constantly. Many people spend most of their adult years in this posture, turning their lives into one giant complaint.
I know there’s somebody reading this thinking, “So what?” Well, I think the “so what” is going to be personal to each individual; but for me, it’s vitally important that I live a big, vibrant life. I believe that harping on the negatives with our incessant complaining is locking us into more of the same unpleasantness. Discovering that I have been unknowingly sabotaging my own evolution is a big “so what” for me. What is the “so what” for you?
At this point there have been enough studies done to prove that complaining is a practice that doesn’t add value to anyone’s life. I think every habit that doesn’t serve us is born from a place that may have initially been productive. Complaining comes from criticism, which can be very helpful to our survival. It’s great that we have the ability to recognize what we don’t like — this inspires us to work hard and offers us a point of contrast to understand what we do like.
The breakdown I see, however, is that a complaint is not constructive in nature. We don’t complain to improve, we complain to deflect responsibility. Every complaint can be stripped down to a desire to blame something or someone outside of ourselves. “Traffic was so bad,” for example, is a great complaint that takes the blame for you being late to your meeting. And I believe it goes even deeper. If there is something you are unhappy with about the way your life is going, the more you can complain about everything and everyone around you, the less you have to sit with the responsibility of your life.
I’m not saying that unfortunate circumstances are always your fault and that you have to take responsibility for your cheating boyfriend, or your car accident, or your cancer. Life happens. But we are always empowered to choose who we are in our circumstances. If we’re sick, we’re sick. But we can be sick and angry, or sick and generous with our love. The only thing that takes away our power to choose who we are going to be is our complaining.
Women, this is something we cannot ignore. Complaining is by no means gender-specific, but I address you because I think it is critical for us to take inventory of ourselves. The realities of business and culture are not always ideal for women. Rather than using that as an excuse to complain, we must be vigilant about cutting the complaining habit out of our lives. Only when we look beyond the limitations we are complaining about can we begin to lift them.
There’s never been a more appropriate time to quote Shakespeare: “Men at some time are masters of their fates: The fault is not in our stars … but in ourselves, that we are underlings.” If we are habitually wired to complain, to “find fault,” fine. But let’s find it honestly within ourselves. This isn’t an excuse to self-loathe, but an extraordinary opportunity to stop being victims and take responsibility for our thoughts and actions.
“What I liked about it was … ”
“I am thankful for … ”
“What I learned from that situation is … ”
Imagine if that’s how our background dialogue sounded. And it can. Take your thoughts, words and actions captive and master yourself. I can’t tell you how your circumstances will look, but I can tell you that a half-empty life is for complainers.
And you’re no complainer.