This is a tale of how I was full of ire and frustration (about something pretty minor, I admit) and complained and complained, and then got my comeuppance, and have that memory seared in my brain. It helps remind me that maybe, just maybe, I should reserve judgement on a frustrating situation for at least a little longer.
Now I have to provide some caveats to the little story I’m about to tell. As I mentioned, it’s about not complaining, especially when you think you know what’s going on, but you really don’t (which is more of the time than we allow). HOWEVER…
-It is a military story. In both the military and in life, there are plenty of situations in which I daresay NO ONE would begrudge you some complaining and venting. People like to joke that complaining is an Olympic sport in the Marine Corps. Everyone sits around in the smoke pit shaking their fists at the next rank above them and all the general hurry-up-and-wait nonsense. Point being, I’m not saying that there aren’t things worth complaining about (although it still may not be the best solution).
-In this story, my complaint was drastically off-base. That’s not always the case either. Sometimes the thing you’re frustrated about really is happening. It doesn’t mean complaining is going to help, but you’re going to feel less stupid about it afterwards (see below).
So, once upon a time, I was deployed and was working 12 hour shifts (7 days a week, obviously). It was good, hard work, but the shift hours were consistent, which means that it was actually kind of cushy compared to other jobs where you’ve got nothing going on one minute, and are up for 36 hours with no break following that. I knew when I started and when I stopped, and even though “down-time” is pretty much just sleep and whatever PT (exercise) you can finagle, it was still the same every day.
The problem with consistent shifts is that you get used to it. You get “spoiled,” see. No matter that I almost couldn’t string English sentences together at the end of my shift sometimes, I still knew that when I was done, I was done.
But, of course, this is the military, and we still have other things to do besides the work we’re doing. Training, briefings, etc. And when this happened, it was ALWAYS during my off-shift, which meant I had to come in two, three, or six hours before my shift started to do whatever the thing was and I HATED this, especially since it often seemed pretty pointless. The guys on the other shift just did it in cycles during their work hours, while it just made an 18 hour day for me. Less sleep, no PT, you get the idea.
Now, there was a period of time where this seemed to be happening all the time, and it was starting to grate. Now this was frustrating, but remember, this is the Marine Corps, and this is a deployment. I really had no reason to feel so entitled to my “off-hours” if they can be called that. But, somehow, I did, whether I would have admitted it or not.
Finally, the straw that broke the stupid, stupid camel’s back (mine…I’m talking about me). I was called in some two or three hours early, but with zero explanation. I didn’t even know why I had to come in, and for a good half hour I was just waiting around, frustration boiling over, and venting to the guys in our little shop area (which THANK THE LORD had a door, and no one else but my own guys heard me. Probably).
Now, I can’t explain why I’m the fool in this story without also explaining that I was good at my job. I had been forced (yes, forced) to put in for some award related to my work, and there was some list of all the work I’d been doing over the course 2 deployments.
The reason I had had to come in early–and the reason I didn’t know why–was because it was for me to receive an award and go through a conga line of officers to be congratulated, and be given coins.*
I was shocked and, internally, embarrassed within an inch of my life. Here I was shaking my fist at losing some down-time, and it was a bunch of people I didn’t even know, coming in to say “you’ve done a really good job.” I have rarely ever felt such a fool. (I do not say never, because I think it is wise to feel a fool every so often.)
Have I been completely (or even mostly) cured of my tendency to complain when “my” time is yanked out of my hands, justly or unjustly, or when something feels stupid or unfair? Well, no. But I keep this story as a reminder to help me temper my complaints, and try to handle frustrations with just a little more dignity, and be just a little more patient when things aren’t going my way. I still vent and even rant at times, but I try to consider whatever it is–a person, a situation, a hindrance–with a little more grace and a little more reason.
I don’t often succeed, but I have this story to go to when I need some help with that.
*Coins: A military tradition. Officers and higher enlisted in certain billets have coins. The coins are ranked like the billets and go all the way up to the President. Under certain circumstances they give them out, and in the olden days, people used to challenge each other at bars to see who had the “highest-ranking” coin, and then you find out who has to pay for drinks. I say “olden days” because I’ve never actually witnessed someone present a coin challenge, but it’s quite possible there are Posts and units where this is still done.