So here’s a philosophical question I’ve been chewing on here and there lately: do we have the right to complain about situations and experiences that we chose of our own free will?
In the age of Facebook and Twitter, we hear the ins and outs of our friends’ and family’s lives on a daily, or often hourly, basis. The good parts, the bad parts, the funny parts. Sometimes sad and frustrating things happen that we have no control over – a flat tire, a flooded basement, the death of a loved one. Everyone can relate to these situations and it’s easy to feel sympathy when they happen. But what about those things that we deliberately take on, which then cause us pain and frustration?
I’ll admit that what first got me started on this question was babies. I’m thirty two years old. It feels like everyone in the world is pregnant or raising small children. My Facebook wall is flooded with kid photos, kid stories, kids, kids kids. My friends and family who know me well already know this, but I’ll admit it here for all the world: I don’t want kids. I’ve never been particularly good with kids and my sanity depends on getting enough sleep and having periods of “quiet” during my day. The point being, me and kids just don’t mix. At thirty two, my “biological clock” hasn’t ticked or tocked and I don’t expect it to.
That said, I do understand the craziness of having a newborn or a toddler at home. I have heard enough stories and seen enough pictures to last a lifetime. It baffles me as to why anyone would want to put themselves through it. As such, for a long time I thought, “Jeez, you knew what you were getting into. If you didn’t want to deal with sleepless nights, exploding diapers or crayon drawings all over your walls, why did you have children?”
Of late, however, I’ve started to realize just how much I’ve become the pot calling the kettle black. I dare not guess how many Facebook statuses I’ve posted in the last three years lamenting homework, tests, projects, class schedules, tuition costs, professors…you get the idea. One might say, “Jeez, Steph, you knew what you were getting into. If you didn’t want to wade through complex math, deal with group projects and sacrifice to pay tuition, why did you go back to school?”
Why? Because I knew it was something I wanted and needed to do. Because I knew in the end that the payback would be worth the pain and struggle. Because I was willing to step up to the plate and take on the challenge, even when I wasn’t sure just how challenging it would be.
And there, Oprah fans, is the “aha” moment.
Aren’t these difficult, challenging choices the exact things that give our lives the most meaning? While I may not want children myself, I can certainly accept that those who choose to become parents know full well that it’s going to be really, really difficult. The only reason they would know this, and yet choose to have kids anyway, is if they truly believe that the payoff will be well worth that struggle.
Is anything worth doing easy? I have quite a few friends who do figure and bodybuilding competitions. That’s a sacrifice if I ever saw one. Months of eating a severely restricted diet, no alcohol, no sugar, hours upon hours at the gym. I know, I did it once. Sometimes I see their “I just wish I could eat a whole cake” Facebook posts and I think, “Okay, then eat a cake. Seriously, the world will not end.”
But actually, that’s the whole point. Nope, the world will not end if they eat a cake. The world will not end if I quit school and live out my days as a graphic designer. The world will not end if you don’t start that business you’ve been dreaming about for ten years. The world will not end if you don’t write that book. The world won’t end, but what kind of world is it without people striving to be what they believe they can be, even if getting there is really, really hard?
So to answer my own question, yes, we have the right to complain about things we freely choose to do. Working toward a goal can really suck. We don’t have to put on a happy face the whole time. Complaining means it’s hard and maybe you’re not having a lot of fun, but it also means you’re not quitting. Complain on, my friends, but stick it out. It’ll be worth it.