How would you feel if your girlfriend nonchalantly testified before a joint session of congress that your inaction directly led to the deaths of hundreds of people, wasted millions of tax dollars, and was the root cause of her personal inconvenience?
That’s roughly how I felt yesterday when my girlfriend, while relating a story to me in which she sympathized with someone whose daughter never cleaned up after herself, uttered the words, “Josh doesn’t do dishes, either.”
First off, I have no defense for this. I do things when I want to, and if someone else has a greater desire to get something done than I do, they usually do it before I get the chance. This is just how the world works. The universe always takes the path of least resistance. That’s why Thomas Edison invented the light bulb, and Paris Hilton pets a dog.
But in all seriousness, hearing those five little words really struck a negative chord within me. Rather than focusing on all the positive things she conveyed during the conversation, I came to all sorts of unwanted conclusions about what those words meant.
- “Josh doesn’t do dishes, either” =
- Society says I’m supposed to be doing something that I’m not doing. Cleaning up after yourself is “welcome to the real world” 101. How will anyone ever entrust me with great opportunities if I can’t even handle the simple things in life?
- It’s my fault that she’s not getting what she wants. After all, if I could just act like a freaking adult and clean up after myself, she wouldn’t have this problem to begin with.
- She’s focused on my inability to give her what she wants, and from that place of focus she’s going to continue seeing what she’s trained herself to see. So if she wants something to change, it’s her job to change it. How am I supposed to do anything about her point of view?
- I haven’t met the person she told this to, so the only thing this person has to go on is the things my girlfriend tells her about me. And if all this person knows about me is what I don’t do, then how do they see me? When I see myself solely through the eyes of what I don’t do, I feel like nothing. So does this person now see me as nothing? And what about all the other people my girlfriend talks to like this?
- It doesn’t bother my girlfriend, but it bothers me (she didn’t even get mad when I started blaming her for everything). And it bothers me even more that it doesn’t bother her. Because if it doesn’t bother her then she has no motivation to try and change it. And if she’s not going to change it, then I have to change my perspective on it. But I’m not focused on my ability to change my perspective, I’m focused on how unwanted what I observed was. And I end up trying to make my unwanted, her unwanted, so that she will do something about it.
Knowing everything I just wrote out, doesn’t it make sense why I might have overreacted? And if I just tried to push this aside and tell myself that it’s petty and insignificant, would I have gotten all this clarity with such ease?
One person’s seemingly casual observation that I’m not a fan of doing the dishes actually carried with it a host of insights that, when followed to their natural conclusion, actually told me a lot about how I see the world — and how I might want to see it differently in the future.
If I believe that one person, with one slightly disparaging comment, can cause such harm to my character and well-being — then what sort of consequences might that have on my willingness to expose myself to new people? Could this be why I seem to have an aversion to marketing myself and sharing more of what I have with the world? And could that aversion to sharing myself with the world be the reason why I’m bringing in so little income and in debt? And could those facts about my income and debt help shape how I see myself and how I think others will see me, further undercutting my desire to expose myself to new opportunities?
And what if I could make one tiny little shift in my perspective and, instead of blaming my girlfriend for the imagined consequences I assigned to her off-hand remark, begin changing my story about how the world works and how I fit into it. Because everything I just told you about my current situation changes the moment I’m willing to see it differently.
That’s ultimately what our emotions are telling us. Not that this tiny, insignificant detail is way more important than we thought. But that the way we’re seeing this tiny detail is a microcosm of how we see the world.
So the next time you find yourself overreacting about some seemingly insignificant detail, maybe the most beneficial thing you can do is let yourself overreact. Sometimes the first step to self-discovery is actually letting yourself be yourself.