I had an ongoing ritual. Every day I would come home from work and complain. I complained about injustice, I complained about how the office was run, I ranted and raved about individuals who were obnoxious, irresponsible, dishonest, and inadequate. After a few of these complaint sessions, Ed would give me some advice which I would usually ignore, but I would be temporarily humbled and make a vow to quit finding fault with everything and everyone, only to find myself before long once more voicing my unending dissatisfaction.
I will not detail my complaints here. Some were petty, some were selfish, some were formed by my sense of fair play, and others were ignited by how co-workers had treated me. I was a helpless victim, at least in my own mind. I did not have the authority to run the office the way I felt it should be run, and I felt as if I had been sucked into a giant vacuum of stress, a condition which I was powerless to overcome.
This past Tuesday, as I finished one of my complaining sessions, Ed said, “When are you going to learn that you can’t change other people? When will you recognize that you can only change yourself?” Something finally clicked.
A few weeks ago, I had dreamed a strange dream. In it, a family friend had given me a dollar bill - a treasure of sorts - torn into three long pieces, each with a jagged, irregular edge. I remember in the dream that my response was one of disappointment. I realized that the money would be of no use to me unless I managed to tape the pieces back together, and with the jagged edges, how utterly time-consuming and frustrating that task would be! The money, though, would be useless in that broken condition.
As I sat there in silence after Ed asked those questions, I thought of that dream. We’re told that we consist of three aspects - body, mind, and spirit. I realized that the stress I was putting myself under at work had torn my identity apart. I was acting in ways that did not reflect my true self, and it was going to take some work to reassemble my mind and spirit parts so that I could again work and live with integrity. I could not “fix” anyone else, but I could certainly take charge of myself.
The next day, instead of inwardly grumbling about a co-worker jumping on the “good” dictations (or even racing her for them), I started giving them away of my own free will. “Here, I’ve had one of these already today...why don’t you take this one?” I also made special amends to one co-worker with whom I have had a very difficult relationship for almost two years. I kind of enjoyed all this. Regardless of the response, it felt good to be kind and generous. I felt like Scrooge after his nocturnal journeys. I concluded that Ed was right - I could only change my attitude, so that is what I changed. As a byproduct of my actions, my co-workers are changing too, even though that was not my initial goal or even expectation. There is now in the office an aura of graciousness and kindness (along with some understandable shock!). My stress level has plummeted, and I don’t dread going to work in the morning.
I’ve often turned to the Serenity Prayer for guidance, but it was only this week that I really - really - understood its meaning. To have the ability to change the things you can, accept the things you can’t change, and the wisdom to know the difference. In the end, Ed is right. All I can change is myself. And therein is indeed my treasure.