This week I was presented with one of life’s challenges. I live in a townhouse complex and have my own assigned parking spot. Wednesday night, I arrived home as usual from my second job, tired and hoping to get to bed as soon as possible. But as I rounded the corner to park behind my place, I was shocked to see a big 4 by 4 truck parked in my spot.
I was furious. The stalls are clearly marked and I couldn’t comprehend how someone would have slipped into my spot accidentally (the person had even taken pains to neatly back into it!)… It was 10:30 at night… Most all of my neighbour’s windows were dark as I looked around. I had no idea who’s vehicle this was and didn’t feel like knocking on doors and waking people up to find out. And as much as I wanted to, I knew it wouldn’t be in my best interest to take a baseball bat to this person’s windows and puncture all four tires… Somewhere in one of the homes around me, the presumptuous owner of this vehicle was sleeping peacefully while I was fuming outside in the cold, trying to deal with my frustration, anxiety and intense feeling of helplessness.
I ended up putting a polite but straight-forward note on their windshield (“This is a private parking stall. Move your vehicle or it will be towed”), called and left a message at our property management company, and willed myself to fall asleep. The next day, I put my frustration to work. I called the property management company again and reception told me that someone would answer my message in time; I called the RCMP- they didn’t deal with situations like that; I called our local towing company- because this was my own titled parking stall, could I have the vehicle towed myself? No… because I’m part of a townhouse complex, I can’t… I called the property management company again and insisted on talking with someone. They told me I should be able to have it towed myself. I called the towing company again… Finally someone gave me the real facts: our condo complex was registered with the towing company. They would come and tag and tow illegally parked vehicles, but only a member of our condo board could call to have this done. The woman at the towing company went beyond the call of duty and called a member of my condo board to have them call me. I was able to talk with this gentleman, and now I have both his phone numbers programmed into my cell phone. The next time I come home and find someone helping themselves to my parking spot, I know exactly what to do to have them towed away asap!
Now, it was a lot of work to find the answer to my problem, and I expended a lot of emotional energy. To some people it might seem like too much work for one small incident. I had been able to park in my roomate’s spot, who wasn’t home that night; the person left the next day; no one got hurt; my life wasn’t at risk. It’s not like they broke into my house and vandalized it… Heck, some people are homeless. Some people don’t even have their own vehicle, let alone their own parking spot!! Some people are dying, dealing with disease and war and far worse things than this.
All these things are true, very true. And I regularly practice gratitude for all the blessings in my life, all the things I am able to enjoy that others do not have. However, comparing our challenges to someone else’s in order to legitimize our feelings or our actions towards them can lead us down the road of resignation and debilitatingly low self-esteem. I have heard this rationalizing/minimizing mindset echoed from people in many different kinds of situations. So and so has this problem, so I shouldn’t be so upset about mine. I’m so irrational sometimes. I should be more thankful and less angry. We don’t want to appear ungrateful or selfish, so we stuff our anger and hurt deep down and try to put on a brave face.
But this is not living. This was my life, my challenge. At that moment in time, at that point in my life, there was this one and only challenge staring me in the face, and I decided that it was worth dealing with. I embraced it as a challenge worthy to deal with because my life is worth it, my anger is justifiable. I wanted to solve the problem this time because I wanted to know how to constructively deal with it if it were to happen again. I didn’t want to live in the lie that I was a helpless victim, not worthy enough to stand up for myself, too worthless to deny how I truly felt about the situation. And after I had taken the action steps I did, I felt alive. I felt satisfied and at peace with myself. I had taken responsibility for myself and my problems. In doing so, I hadn’t stored up my anger to cause me pain later on down the road. Simultaneously, I had gained more skills for bigger challenges I may face, skills I can offer to help others in similiar situations. I had grown.
Life will always present us with all kinds of challenges, big and small. We don’t have to legitimize whether or not to take action with our challenges by comparing them to someone else’s. They are our unique challenges to deal with, and in being so, they are our unique opportunities to grow and practice self-value. Engaging with them is one part of the extraordinary dance of being and knowing that we are valuable and alive.