It was the bottom of the inning, and I had one strike left. From behind me came loud baseball chatter from my fourth grade classmates who attempted to distract me from the impending pitch. My mind was on the sound of their voices instead of the ball. Swing and a miss. Dropping the bat to the ground, I charged over to first base where my P.E. teacher stood.
“That’s not fair! I couldn’t concentrate when everyone is yelling,” I insisted as I stood there with my hands on my hips.
“Do you think it’s fair that thousands of people are yelling from the stands when the Cardinals are up to bat? What do they do?”
Her answer infuriated me. This wasn’t Major League Baseball or the St. Louis Cardinal’s stadium. It was Physical Education class on a blacktop parking lot in rural Illinois, and I was a sensitive little girl who needed a re-do. As I retreated to my place in line, I continued to stew and suddenly decided that I hated her short hair. And windbreaker jacket. And dirty white Keds. She didn’t get me.
The “Too Busy” Guy
There is little that’s more heartbreaking than when a friend calls you crying from somewhere too far away to lend a hug. As she drove up the coast of California to move to her new place, she called me to describe a crappy encounter she had along the way. The guy she had been looking forward to seeing in Los Angeles – the person she was semi-relying on to make California feel like home – acted completely distant when she stopped into the city to see him.
“I told him, ‘I feel like you don’t even want me here,’” she confessed. Apparently he acted too busy the whole time – too distracted by work to make her feel wanted. Feelings that were all too familiar began to surface. Many of my friends had encountered the same type of self-centered guys.
He’s the writer who can’t pry himself from the pages of his unfinished book. The hairdresser who is too consumed by styling poolside hair and cutting the perfect “lob”. The set designer who is just so exhausted from gathering props all over the city.
Meanwhile, she’s waking up at 4 a.m. and putting her hard hat on to work on a construction site until night fall. She’s making time for her side business after long hours of accounting busy season. She’s working a full-time job and taking nighttime design classes. And it saddens me that at the end of the day, they don’t feel wanted by someone who believes their schedule is the only one that matters.
Every time this happens, my response is always the same: “He needs to get over himself.”
A Harsh Realization
“Maybe my New Year’s resolution should be to complain less,” I casually joked at work one December day after voicing a complaint over the caffeine levels of the office coffee.
“YES!” my two officemates responded a little too quickly and emphatically for comfort. Oh, apparently this was a thing. Okay, challenge accepted. In the new year, I would make a conscious effort to whine less, and I would start practicing the next morning at Crossfit – the home of most of my complaints.
“I don’t think that’s something you can fix,” a friend said when I told him about my resolution over pull-ups. Wait, what? “Yeah, chocolate you can give up, but complaining is just a part of you.” It was worse than I thought. How had I let my whining become an integral part of my personality?
If if I had to be completely honest with myself, my complaints started the moment I woke up until the time I went to bed.
- I hate rowing and burpees.
- Ugh, I’m going to get cramps from drinking wine last night.
- My legs are too sore to run.
- Why can’t he send an email without typos?
- I ate too many Girl Scout cookies!
- I’m so cold! Why is the air on so high?
- Why is he so moody? I swear boys have periods.
- Mom, why don’t you ever listen to me?!
I started to become keenly aware of each time that I pretended like the world revolved around me. Like no one else at the gym was tired and dehydrated at 6 a.m. Like my body temperature was the only one that mattered in the entire office building. Like my uber-loving mother didn’t care about what I had to say which one night recently led to tears and yelling: “I’m working so hard! Why don’t you care?”
When describing this latest family breakdown to a coworker, he sent me David Foster Wallace’s renowned 2005 Kenyon Commencement Speech in which he touches on the root of the problem.
Think about it: there is no experience you have had that you are not the absolute center of. The world as you experience it is there in front of YOU or behind YOU, to the left or right of YOU, on YOUR TV or YOUR monitor. And so on. Other people’s thoughts and feelings have to be communicated to you somehow, but your own are so immediate, urgent, real.
That was me. But what could I do to escape it? After describing a series of annoying everyday scenarios that would cause anyone to complain, such as long lines at the grocery store and grueling traffic, he offers a way to free yourself from the default setting of believing that you are the only one who is annoyed or tired or anxious.
The really important kind of freedom involves attention and awareness and discipline, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them over and over in myriad petty, unsexy ways every day.
This Is the Majors
Every morning now when I’m cold and tired and do not feel like any physical activity in the early morning, I tell myself that phrase I’ve used on self-centered guys: “Get over yourself.” I’m fortunate to afford nice gym, to work out with friends, and I want to bring them the same joy in the morning that they bring to me instead of constant complaints.
It’s not easy. Sometimes I even whine about not being able to stop whining. But I’ve realized that my P.E. teacher was right. This is the Major Leagues. We’re all in a stadium with millions. You may feel like people are trying to distract you, but really, most people aren’t even paying attention to you. They’re buying their kids hotdogs or trying to get on Kiss Cam. And a large portion of them are there to cheer you on. Be thankful for them. Repay the favor. And when you’re up to bat, all you need to do is stay focused on the ball because you don’t always get a re-do afterall.
My teacher didn’t need to get me. I needed to get over myself.