Achievements of another kind

Why is the bathroom shower one of the best places to do some thinking?

It’s not as if you get into the shower with a plan in mind to do some thinking. In that way, it’s totally unlike the spaces we create which are intended for productivity–an office at work, a desk at home. I’ve talked before about the importance of rituals, and the mindless ritual of showering lends itself well to facilitating more abstract thought processes. When I was in art school, I had two places where my abstract thought went into overdrive: the shower, and in bed right before falling asleep.

I didn’t make any big breakthroughs in the shower today, but I did feel like my thoughts during that time were the good kind that put me in the right frame of mind to go to work and try to make the best of the day. I contrast that with the times I’ve been assailed by bad thoughts that seem like they’re out of my control. I want to clarify that I do believe that our thoughts are usually well within our control, and our bad thoughts only tend to get out of hand and “beyond our control” when anxiety enters the picture.

Today in the shower I was thinking about how my perspective on “personal accomplishments” has changed over time. It has been a gradual change. The change hasn’t been drastic, either. I haven’t totally redefined what personal accomplishment looks like for me. I do think the change has been significant enough, though, that if I write about it here it’s possible that someone could find it helpful.


As a kid, I would have defined an accomplishment as having won something. Accomplishment = winning. Did I win something? If I didn’t, then no accomplishment took place. No achievement was made.

Awards weren’t the only way to win, though they were still the best type of accomplishment to make. An award is concrete proof that you are the best. The bigger the pool of candidates and the more prestigious the award, the more significant that award became and the more it helped to bolster my ego.

I was very preoccupied with winning awards in my three main areas of interest: sports, art, and academics.

And I did. I won a lot of awards. I didn’t win all of them though, so I was still a failure. A winner would have won every time.

I look back on that kid and I know that kid was too hard on herself. Today I realize that my problems with anxiety were taking root back then. I was the kid who would silently cry at her desk if my test score came back and I only received 98 points out of 100. I had to be perfect. I often went home from school with “stomach aches.” Looking back, these stomach aches were just the physical manifestation of my psychological issues. I didn’t make a connection between the two until a little later. I knew by Grade 8 that my excessive worrying was causing me to feel sick a lot. I wasn’t aware of any possible solution to that problem.

In Grade 8 we used to write daily journal entries in response to a topic selected by our homeroom teacher. Out of many journal entries, I only remember a few of them clearly. One question asked what our greatest wish was. My response at the time was that I wished I wouldn’t worry so much, followed by a couple elaborating paragraphs to fill the space left on the page. My teacher approached me about it afterward. She said she thought it was a wise response. I felt a sense of accomplishment from that, as if I’d won my teacher’s approval in some way. At the same time, that journal entry was a cry for help of sorts. I didn’t write it to impress my teacher, unlike many other things I did with the intention of impressing people. Because of the response I received, my screwed-up brain turned it into just another thing I used to bolster my pride.


The great thing about adulthood, so far, is that the awards are few and far between. A kid who has been accustomed to receiving awards in competitive settings has to wean themselves off of that feeling. At first, we find different ways by which to judge our own worth. Maybe we get accepted into the school of our choice. When it comes time to apply for our first “real job”, a feeling of accomplishment can arise if we are chosen for a position out of a large pool of potential candidates.

I haven’t gotten there yet. It’s something I’ve spent most of the last decade beating myself up about. My inability to secure a job in my field still weighs on my mind–even after the realization hit that I don’t really want to be in “my field” anymore.

Getting a job–the kind of job you go to school for–is just one achievement I wanted to have under my belt by this time in my life. Most chances at an “entry level” job in my field have passed me by. I’m not a recent graduate anymore. I’m not even in my twenties anymore. My resume is a cornucopia of unrelated, unskilled part-time jobs that would impress no one.

If I don’t achieve my dream of getting a job, what else is there?

As it turns out, I have plenty of other options–other ways to keep “achieving.”

I have had to redefine what that means for me.

One time at work, I overheard someone refer to me as a “nice person.” I don’t think I’d ever gotten such a HIGH off of being called nice before. Why? Because it doesn’t happen that often. I have spent a lot of time in my life being a jerk to people. I experienced a series of “rude awakenings” that all culminated in me realizing I’d been acting in a way that was contrary to how I believed I was acting.

These days, it’s an accomplishment to be viewed as being a kind person.

But a truly kind person would not be kind to others just to out-do other people who are also being kind.

If you decide you want to follow the path of kindness, you have to change something about the way you see other people. This is where my faith has helped me. My faith tells me that we are all children of God. We all have an intrinsic value, no matter what our actions might indicate. Even the worst, most undeserving people are included under the banner of “God’s children.”


Practicing kindness began with practicing patience.

I used to have zero patience. Now I have a lot of it. Now, I get taken advantage of more often. Part of having patience is opening yourself up to the possibility of being taken advantage of. No one wants to be a sucker. No one wants to be seen as naive. No one wants to have one of their virtues used against them.

But having patience allows us to do something that I see as a kind act: to withhold judgment.

As a teenager, I was very into myself and my own interests. I often looked down on people who didn’t share my specific views or tastes. I was quick to judge others and made no reservations about letting my opinion be known. Do you ever meet people who talk more about the things they hate than the things they enjoy? Do you ever get the impression that they experience a kind of joy when they discover yet another thing to dislike? It’s really obnoxious, but that’s how I think of myself at that age. And I know many people who are still stuck there, even as grown adults.

Practicing patience has allowed me to get to know people for who they really are. I don’t put a person on a pedestal just because we might have some superficial tastes in common. When I’ve done that in the past, it has led to me ignoring some of the more unsavory aspects of that person’s personality. Because at least we like the same music and can commiserate about our shared views on politics! Right? Gross.

I feel secure enough today in who I am that I don’t look for other people’s approval. My views are my own.

And I don’t feel compelled to inflict my views on other people. Here’s a scenario: You’re taking your lunch at work in the communal break room. A few people at your table are having an enthusiastic discussion about something they all enjoy. You very much do not enjoy that thing. In what way do you contribute to that conversation?

If the answer is something other than “listening politely,” we’ve got problems.

Have patience with people. Your opinion–my opinion–is not so important that you must take it upon yourself to ruin a pleasant conversation.

A while back I had to listen to my supervisor run down a much younger coworker–to his face–simply because this young man enjoyed the show The Big Bang Theory.

Is there anything more pathetic than an almost 40-year-old taking such offense at the TV-watching preferences of his younger subordinate to the point where he feels compelled to get into a heated discussion about it, the purpose of which was to convince this younger person that he shouldn’t enjoy a show that he currently enjoys?

I don’t know what he hoped to accomplish. Using your TV-watching preferences to demonstrate your superiority over another person is sad. It’s television. It’s all meant to be easily digestible in a 30-minute or hour-long format. I don’t care if it’s Game of Thrones or Peppa Pig–you sit there passively and watch it according to your interests and tastes. I don’t understand what there is to feel superior about.

And when someone is open about the things they enjoy, your first instinct should not be to run that thing down–I don’t care how much you dislike it. You’re being a jerk to someone who apparently made the mistake of showing enthusiasm around the wrong person. That wrong person is you.

Do you want to be the type of person who no one can be honest with? Because they fear your judgment, I mean. How’s that working out for you?

When I started to shut up and listen to people better, people started talking to me more. They know I won’t mock or ridicule them for something of no consequence.

I feel good about my newfound ability to shut my stupid face hole. It’s been a major accomplishment I’ve made as an adult and it’s helping me on my quest toward kindness.

Another thing I stopped doing: nitpicking the people who I’m supposed to love the most. The individuals on the receiving end of this nitpickery were most often my boyfriend and my brothers.

There was a time when everything annoyed me. I had no reservations about expressing my annoyance. Little brother cracking his knuckles? I would have lost my freaking mind. But it doesn’t bother me to that degree anymore. It bothers me so little, that I don’t comment on it. And I’m not just seething with anger, either. It’s just not a big deal. He doesn’t crack his knuckles to annoy me. He does it because it’s a habit he developed, and that’s it. I’m trying not to take things like that personally. It has nothing to do with me and it’s not meant to annoy me.

He is a very fidgety, anxious person at times. Sometimes when we’re sitting on a couch together, or eating lunch at a restaurant, his foot tapping is enough to make everything start shaking. I used to snap at him about this. I’ve stopped commenting on it altogether.

I try to look away when someone chews with their mouth open.

If someone is having a loud conversation via speakerphone, I quietly leave the area if it’s bothering me so much.

People don’t do these things to annoy me, so taking it personally would be a waste of energy and a totally misplaced reaction on my part.


Perhaps if I’d been given my dream job right out of school, or had other desires of mine easily fulfilled, I would not have seen any reason to change anything about myself. Sometimes when you get everything you want in life, you unconsciously see that as an affirmation of sorts. Just keep doing what you’re doing! Why change when being a jerk didn’t have any negative consequences?

But even if you’re a successful jerk, there’s a pretty good chance that if you look at the people surrounding you–especially people on a lower rung of the ladder, or perhaps your friends and family who’ve provided you with support along the way–you might find a lot of people who were inadvertently hurt or taken advantage of because of your ambitions.

It doesn’t matter what stage you’re at in life–there is absolutely nothing that should preclude you from practicing kindness.

It’s something we can achieve as individuals as well as collectively in our social groups. Why wouldn’t you make that choice? Kindness is not a competition, but we can certainly achieve it. And unlike most other awards and honors, we can make achievements in kindness without limit–starting now, and until the day we die. The possibility is there.

Language, please

I never meant for this blog to become a series of vented frustrations, but here we are.

For what it’s worth, I hope to diversify my output in the future. If you’d like to read something here that’s nice, I still like my post about The Song of Bernadette. I hope to write more about other movies and books I’ve enjoyed, but right now I’m still making my way through The Gates of Europe: A History of Ukraine. Somehow I doubt I’ll be reviewing it, because the scope of it is immense.

Onward.

Onward to the unrelated subject of grown adults with chronic potty-mouth syndrome.

As a child, I heard my mom say the “F-word” once, in anger, during an argument with my dad that I was eavesdropping on. Foul language was not a part of my early upbringing. I once chastised my aunt for saying the word “stupid.” At the time, the word “stupid” was just about the worst word I knew.

But it’s impossible to avoid hearing bad language unless you’re a completely sheltered individual. My brothers and I weren’t home schooled. We had television. We played video games. Eventually, we had internet access at home. My dad let us rent PG-13 movies much earlier than my mom would have preferred. If anyone else has had an experience wherein your mom overheard the line “Suck my white ass, ball!” while Happy Gilmore was playing, I’d love to hear from you. HOO BOY.

When I was 17, I said the “F-word” in front of my mom for the first time. I can’t remember what my punishment was–a severe grounding of some type, probably. I deserved it. My mom was and is a good mom for not tolerating that kind of disrespect.

On rare occasions I still use the “F-word” in moments of anger, though I’m working on eliminating it from my “casual conversation” vocabulary. In this blog, I’ve written “Suck my nuts” in anger, so I have no room to judge anyone else. Anyone who found this blog via tags or whatnot relating to my religious beliefs would perhaps consider it very hypocritical of me to cast stones at others for their use of foul language.

But I’m trying to practice some self-discipline now. I’ll be writing a follow-up post to this one about the other areas in which I’m trying to improve.

This attempt to curtail my use of profanities originally began in response to my environment at work. My coworkers use a lot of profanity in a way that is markedly different than what I’ve witnessed at previous jobs. The f-bomb is versatile as a part of speech and many people here delight in exploring its many uses. What the fuck? You fucker. Get fucked. And stop fucking bothering me, you fucking idiot.

I hate even writing that now! There was a time when I rolled my eyes at people who dared to suggest that the overuse of foul language makes one look stupid.

I’ve switched sides.

If I only had to hear those words when someone was pushed to their absolute limit–like the time I overheard my mom–I probably wouldn’t be writing this. Instead, I hear them all the time. The most common usage of the f-word that I hear is one applied during moments of minor frustration that I wouldn’t even categorize as anger. The other common usage I hear is one of emphasis, both good and bad.

That movie was so fucking good.

That movie fucking sucked.

Easy examples.

The most likely candidate for this type of language usage (based on my personal observations at work) is: youngish person, mid-twenties to late thirties. I can’t even recall hearing the same type of language from my coworkers past and present who were in their early twenties. Maybe their experiences with having strict parents are still very recent in their minds.

Almost any use of profanity is completely inappropriate in the workplace. It’s unprofessional. I’ll make an exception for any person whose job involves handling snakes.

I work in security, though. We sit on our butts all day doing close to nothing. When that’s what your job entails, and you get accustomed to a life of comfort, any minor inconvenience seems to be enough to justify the use of the f-word.

I hit my limit with a former coworker here who was incapable of expressing any thought without the use of profanity. The longer he was here, and the more he talked, the dumber he became. He went from being just another foul-mouthed individual to a person who no one trusted to act professionally in any situation.

The overuse of profanity in casual speech bothers me for many reasons.

If you and I are having a normal conversation, and you use profanity for no reason, understand that my perception is that you’re using the language of verbal assault. I don’t know why someone would intentionally want their choice of words to be similar to that of someone who engages in verbal assault.

Words have meaning and serve a purpose. I’m not anti-profanity, nor am I an advocate of censorship. If I’m working toward eliminating unnecessary profanities from my own speech, it’s because I’m trying to challenge myself to find a better way to express my thoughts. It’s also one of the most basic considerations I can make in my communications with others.

An older coworker of mine who rarely uses profanity has a favorite song that is known for its blistering use of profanity. When John Lennon sings a line like “…and you think you’re so clever and classless and free / but you’re still fucking peasants as far as I can see” in “Working Class Hero” it has more impact and more meaning because he doesn’t use profanity as a crutch throughout the greater body of his work.

When you read Lady Chatterley’s Lover, your sense of propriety might be challenged, but your intelligence and sense of self-respect can remain intact. The use of fuck and cunt have a purpose, and that purpose is examined in the text itself if you don’t already find it self-evident.

I had a recent experience with a different coworker (featured here) who likes to pepper his everyday speech with profanities. He burst into the security dispatch office complaining about something or other, using his normal fuck-this and this-fucking-thing type of phraseology. At one point I tried to calm things down by saying “yikes,” to which he responded, “I’m not angry or anything.” Oh really? It was hard to tell.

I realized while writing this that my timid “yikes” overpowered all of his f-bombs.

When I was first hired on at my current job, many of my new coworkers tried to bring me up to speed concerning the who’s-who and the what’s-what of the job. Some of the information was helpful, but it quickly devolved into an exercise in advising me about who among our employees was terrible. I will never, ever forget the moment that one of my coworkers in security described one of the museum’s custodians as “subhuman.” For anyone who might be slow on the uptake, Untermensch became a favorite term of the Nazis, used in reference to the undesirable populations of people farther east: Jews, Slavs, Poles, and many others. Also please appreciate this callback to my current reading material.

Do I really have to keep reiterating how and why words matter? Would it depress you if I told you that my coworker who nonchalantly called another employee “subhuman” is currently enrolled in the creative writing program at a local university and plans to graduate soon? I suppose there’s a limit to what school can teach someone.

Works mentioned in post:
The Gates of Europe: A History of Ukraine by Serhii Plokhy
Happy Gilmore, directed by Dennis Dugan and starring Adam Sandler
“Working Class Hero” from Plastic Ono Band, John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band
Lady Chatterley’s Lover by D.H. Lawrence