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Help me respect people in my life that don't seem like they are trying.
May 14, 2014 11:49 AM   Subscribe

It feels like people in my life aren't trying hard enough, but as I have felt this way multiple times now, I realize the problem is within me. My life has been pretty easy because I try really hard and get good results. Does anyone have any perspectives/advice for me? Snowflake details inside.

Background:
My Brother, a close friend, and my girlfriend all recently have had life-changing opportunities that they have missed because they A: didn't apply for a job early enough, B: didn't apply for enough variety of jobs, or C: didn't seek advanced guidance on her degree requirements. As such, they have each wasted 1-2 years of of their life.

Currently, my girlfriend is applying for a different school, and she knows the deadline is June 20. She has expressed concern about making the deadline, but applying for a school can't be that difficult. It shouldn't take longer than a day.

My brother is stuck in a job with no advancement at a pay level lower than he deserves. He could have applied for another job earlier, but it was removed (filled maybe) before the application period had ended and it seems like an earlier application would have helped him a lot.

My friend is moving far away because she can't find an internship locally, but I know (and suggested) 4 or 5 locations locally that are hiring interns of her variety. She didn't seem keen on applying for them because "she'll just see how the far away one works out first" even though she is unhappy with the far away housing and position.

Problem

As someone with good Google-fu, good social awareness, and with a job that I am proud of, how can I respect those people that don't always fend for themselves?

Now, my profession is easier and I am younger and had more success earlier in life, and my profession is in high demand and I have everything pretty good, so sometimes it's hard for me to compare.

Because I don't care what they do. I don't care if they don't do well, they are my friends and I support their actions through and through. But how can I support their inactions when is seems so simple to pursue their goals?

Question

How can I respect those people that have more difficulty doing (seemingly) simple tasks? How can I show them respect in my interactions with them? How can I stop suggesting easy solutions to easy problems?

P.S. I really, really don't mean to come off condescending at all. If that is your remark, that I am a jerk and I need to be more respectful, I would love to know what train of thought is wrong, and how I can inspire respect.


Thank you so much for helping me out with this!

-bbq
posted by bbqturtle to Human Relations (75 answers total) 30 users marked this as a favorite
 
I would consider the possibility that you want different things for the people in your life than they want for themselves, and they resort to telling you what they think you want to hear to get you off their back about their choices.

You've got to mind your own business. You're going to alienate everyone you care about by superimposing your own desires and ambitions onto people who are not, in fact, exactly like you and may not want the same things. Even if you CAN somehow railroad or cajole or guilt someone into doing what you think they should be doing, what's the point? Then they're not doing it for themselves, but only to shut you up. That's not a recipe for healthy relationships. If you love someone, love who they are, not who you think they should or could be.
posted by something something at 11:56 AM on May 14 [43 favorites]


I think part of it may be respecting the fact that you don't know the whole story about what is holding them back, if indeed they feel held back. It could be simple inaction, or it could be some sort of crippling issue. There could be anything going on, from lack of your style of ambition to chronic pain to anything you can imagine.

Respect them for the qualities they possess. Are they good to you and each other? Are they kind? Do they love well? Respect that.

We all focus so much on achieving and winning and moving up, but that's not what people necessarily need to be respected for.
posted by xingcat at 11:57 AM on May 14 [26 favorites]


The point is, you can't live other people's lives for them. The people in your life may have had reasons for hesitating on doing these things; just because you think they were the right things doesn't mean they were. Not everyone makes quick decisions on everything in a straight linear path, and your friends no doubt have their reasons for what they did.

Some people deliberate and do things more slowly than you. That's okay.

Also, I don't understand how applying to school only takes a day. You need recommendation letters, essays, and to send away for transcripts.
posted by bearette at 11:58 AM on May 14 [6 favorites]


they have each wasted 1-2 years of of their life

This is one train of thought that I think is inaccurate. Not having higher pay, or the "right" school or the "right" internship means a person is wasting their life? No, there is more to life than that.

Who are these people to you: the sum of their education and paychecks? Or do they mean more than that to you?
posted by Bentobox Humperdinck at 11:58 AM on May 14 [88 favorites]


You only get to see a tiny sliver of what people think. People have lives, stresses, desires, mental health conditions you may not know about or fully understand.

What you pretty much have to respect is that other people have rich inner lives that you are not a hundred percent privy to. You know how to navigate around that iceberg. Look, there's so little of it! Left, you need to go left! How can anybody not know how to--*thwonk* *crack* *sink*
posted by Sequence at 12:00 PM on May 14 [7 favorites]


One thing that it appears you're doing is assuming you know the whole story. For example, maybe there is still a reason that your friend is more interested in the distant job. Sometimes people don't let you in on everything they are thinking; often, when someone seems to be doing something illogical, you're missing a bit of information they have. That does not mean you would necessarily agree with their decision if you knew everything, but it might not be as straightforward as you think.

Having some humility would help with that; it might help you understand the world is more complicated than someone who has a "pretty easy" life might suspect at first glance.

One way to develop humility is to re-examine the reasons you think your life is easy. Are you sure it's just that you "try really hard"? Are you sure you don't have some advantages that you didn't earn, or some luck?

Developing humility may also lead you to stop assuming you're definition of success is universal. No matter how great you think you have it, they are people out there that would hate your life.
posted by spaltavian at 12:00 PM on May 14 [15 favorites]


You respect them by understanding that they are the ones who get to make their own choices. Not you.

You understand, as well, that sometimes, their choices will not align with their own stated intentions or values. To the extent that this disconnect between intentions/values and choices is not hurting anybody other than them, it's none of your business.

You understand, further, that while you can have concern for things outside of your control, you can only control things inside your control, and that the things inside your own control pretty much end with you and your physical possessions. That's it. Everything outside of those things is not something you can control. Accept this. It will free you.

By "hurting" I mean pretty drastic things, not just an extended logical chain of possibilities like "they won't get a good job and then down the road when they have kids they won't be able to afford to send the kids to college" because that's not, in any real sense of the word, "hurting" anybody.
posted by gauche at 12:00 PM on May 14 [2 favorites]


You really never, never know what's going on with other people; things can seem so easy and be so hard. I have bipolar and that means that often, things are just more difficult for me. Life weighs me down. Things that should be easy and that it seems like everyone else manages can be almost impossible, and then it builds or there are consequences or I miss deadlines and the guilt I feel for not doing these things adds to the challenge of doing them and it's all just so hard and I can barely handle it.

Please consider that something like this might be true of your friends and family as well; they might be suffering from mental or physical health issues, they might have huge sources of stress like money or relationship concerns, they might have decided that these things simply seem too hard and exhausting to do. I totally get why these things might seem easy to you, but different people have different challenges and struggles and for some people, life just takes more effort.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 12:01 PM on May 14 [21 favorites]


These people don't want your advice or help. Stay out of it.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 12:02 PM on May 14 [2 favorites]


This is one train of thought that I think is inaccurate. Not having higher pay, or the right school or the right internship means a person is wasting their life? No, there is more to life than that. Who are these people to you: the sum of the education and paychecks? Or do they mean more than that to you?

I don't disagree with you, but for instance, by not taking the correct set of classes, my girlfriend (basically) wasted a year of schooling where she was trying to improve her GPA, which ended up not mattering to her goal of getting into a nursing program. I feel like those hours studying and jumping through hoops were wasted, as the credits will never go anywhere and she will need to retake the classes in a different setting. It feels wasted because of all the stress, all the focus and determination toward the end goal was short of reaching it, and she is back to square one.

Can you add perspective into what that year was if not wasted? I would really prefer to think about it any other way.

Thanks :)
posted by bbqturtle at 12:02 PM on May 14


Remember that if you think it's a simple situation it's almost certainly due to your own simplistic thinking and not any simplicity actually inherent in the situation. Like xingcat says you don't know the whole story. Even if you live with them or are their boyfriend or whatever. They may not even know the whole story. Stop making judgments about what people should be able to do.
posted by Blitz at 12:03 PM on May 14 [2 favorites]


If that is your remark, that I am a jerk and I need to be more respectful...

Well, I don't think you're a jerk necessarily, but you're expecting of other people what you would expect of yourself, and save for expecting people not to commit really horrendous acts, that is nine times out of ten a recipe for disappointment:

She has expressed concern about making the deadline, but applying for a school can't be that difficult.

It can easily be that difficult if you have anything from situtational or chronic anxiety, to doubts about this being the right thing to do, to just not even wanting whole-heartedly to do it. Would it be easy for you? Maybe. But for her, it either isn't easy, or she doesn't want to do it as much as you think she does. And if it doesn't take longer than a day, well, some people procrastinate. It's a shitty habit, sure, but even procrastinators can get stuff done when push comes to shove.

...but it was removed (filled maybe) before the application period had ended and it seems like an earlier application would have helped him a lot.

Unless you've got someone on the inside, you have absolutely no idea if that is the case at all, much less "a lot." Maybe it could've helped him. Maybe it would've been spitting in the wind. Would it have been better if he applied early? Sure. But he didn't because of all the reasons I named above.

She didn't seem keen on applying for them because "she'll just see how the far away one works out first" even though she is unhappy with the far away housing and position.

Again, same thing: maybe this is anxiety, or a bad habit, or she knows more about the situation than you do and you're missing pertinent information. But at the end of the day, you don't know.

Look, if I followed you around for 24-hrs, I could easily come up with a list of Things You're Doing Wrong, from brushing your teeth the wrong way, to making bad choices about meals, to spending your time doing X when I think you should be doing Y. And you know what? Even if I'm right, which I'm probably not, it doesn't make a damn bit of difference.

Now, my profession is easier and I am younger and had more success earlier in life, and my profession is in high demand and I have everything pretty good, so sometimes it's hard for me to compare.

I don't doubt that you worked hard, but I can say that it is easier to work hard when you're not going against the stream. But stuff like changing schools, or changing careers, or having trouble finding an internship? That has an added layer of difficulty I think you're not seeing.

People will always, always, always disappoint you if you expect them to lead their life as you do yours. So don't, offer to help when you can, offer advice if you're asked and keep your expectations of non-critical behavior to yourself.
posted by griphus at 12:03 PM on May 14 [29 favorites]


Can you add perspective into what that year was if not wasted?

What else happened that year? Did you two eat any great meals, go on dates, have sex, have deep conversations?

she will need to retake the classes in a different setting

They'll probably be a lot easier the second time around.
posted by Bentobox Humperdinck at 12:05 PM on May 14 [21 favorites]


I'm a recovering control freak, and I could have written this post a few years ago. I used think that people I loved weren't "trying hard enough" and that this lack of effort on their part was a reflection of how little they actually loved ME. In truth, there were a multitude of reasons why they weren't showing the effort I wanted to see: they had other (more important) responsibilities, they didn't really care that much, they had depression and COULDN'T care that much about the frankly unimportant things I was nagging them about, they hoped that if they didn't do it I would eventually do it for them, etc.
posted by gumtree at 12:06 PM on May 14 [22 favorites]


It feels wasted because of all the stress, all the focus and determination toward the end goal was short of reaching it, and she is back to square one... Can you add perspective into what that year was if not wasted?

Sure: if you take this to its logical conclusion, then any time spent not doing something to further your goals is "wasted time." Including everything you did to further goals that you decided not to further.

There's objective value to learning. There's value to what is done outside of school. There's value to interacting with your peers and faculty and making friends and connections. And even if she learned nothing, did nothing outside of school, and talked to not a single soul, there's value in fucking up and learning from your mistakes at a time when you're young, and strong and mentally agile and don't have a family to feed.
posted by griphus at 12:09 PM on May 14 [22 favorites]


If your intention is to help them, you can offer help via assistance in outlining the specific steps that can be taken to achieve their goal. The caveat is that you must know first that 1) they want help 2) what their exact goal is 3) all of the exact steps that can be taken to help them get there. Sometimes I find other people's problems are clear as day to solve while my own are impossible; maybe because I don't have the emotions connected to their problems the way I do to my own. If you can see it clearly and they can't & they want help and you are willing to give it patiently, and without a condescending attitude that might not even come off purposefully, then maybe this can all work out nicely.

But are these their goals or your goals for them? Big difference there.

If you just want to stop focusing on their faults so you can continue to have relationships with them, well then just stop focusing on their faults. Support them, love them, be kind to them, have fun with them. Don't judge them.
posted by kmr at 12:10 PM on May 14 [1 favorite]


It makes a lot of sense that these people care less than I do about these things. All three people that I listed are really easy going, and like to have a good time regardless of their job, schooling, situation, or problems going on. They all lead the "doesn't really matter what job you have" mentality.

I was raised lower income so it's hard for me to ignore the dollar signs in every decision. I really wish I was better at stepping back and letting things just be without them needing to be perfect, or be the way I would do them.

If anyone had specific mental exercises/mantras that could help with letting go of the feeling of needing to control other people/have everything be perfect, that would be amazing.


Thanks again.
posted by bbqturtle at 12:10 PM on May 14 [1 favorite]


But how can I support their inactions when is seems so simple to pursue their goals?


By offering advice and help if it is sought, and sympathy if things don't work out and they ask you for support.

You seem to value efficiency and forethought and planning, and in things having a purpose, so ask yourself: What good comes of you stressing over things your friends do that you cannot control or fix? Your girlfriend chose poorly in the classes she took - that has already happened, so why do you still seem to feel the need to *do* something about it? She might have to repeat things, or she might not; she may yet get advantages out of that "wasted" period: these are things you cannot know, and cannot control. So let them go.

Whenever the words "You[they] should just...." start to form in your head, whether they're about someone you know well and care for, or about a stranger, stop and ask yourself if you really know anywhere near as much about their circumstances as you think you do. The answer is you don't. And "You should just..." is a phrase that will almost invariably put peoples' backs up, so if what you want is actually to help them, then you must meet them where they are, and not where you think they ought to be.
posted by rtha at 12:11 PM on May 14 [1 favorite]


The little tidbit that has helped me immeasurably in becoming more compassionate towards everyone (myself included) is regularly reminding myself that everyone is doing the best job they can all the time. They are operating in their own best interests as they see them, and if they're doing things that don't make sense to you, or even to them, there are still very good reasons that they're doing these things. Figuring out the reasons that people do the things they do can be a big job, but that's their big job to do.
posted by rhooke at 12:12 PM on May 14 [22 favorites]


It feels wasted because of all the stress, all the focus and determination toward the end goal was short of reaching it, and she is back to square one.

Nothing is wasted, if she is still alive to learn from it. I'd ask you to consider that your perspective on wasted time or effort is deficient, because it seems to be focused on achieving specific outcomes, when in fact those outcomes may not be what a person really needs or even is attempting to achieve out of a given endeavor.

I've had a business that I started shut its doors. But instead of conceiving of that event as a failure, because I didn't achieve the outcomes I was hoping for (wealth and fame), I learned some things about myself and about business, and I will carry those things I learned on with me. I don't know how I'll use them, but I know they are there. That may have been an expensive lesson, but it was an important one.

You don't get to decide which lessons should come cheaply for other people.
posted by gauche at 12:13 PM on May 14 [7 favorites]


Of course it's always easier to see how to fix other people's problems than your own. (There's a reason I spend so much time here on Ask.) But there's no guarantee that things would have turned out great if these people did the things you think they should've done. I guess I think that they're fending for themselves fine--it seems like your brother has a job and your friend has an internship, even if they're not ideal, and your girlfriend is working on fixing her academic situation. I don't think that managing any of those things is particularly simple.

For what it's worth I am really efficient/impatient and even I think you can't just apply to school in a day.

Re: wasted time and "dollar signs in every decision" your girlfriend may have learned useful things in her classes, even if they aren't as directly applicable as she'd hoped. Not everything valuable is quantifiable in terms of money.
posted by mlle valentine at 12:13 PM on May 14


A few weeks ago you posted this: Help me find work-life balance as a recent college graduate.

So, by your own admittance, less than a month ago, you were:

- ill because of your diet, lack of exercise, and sleeping habits
- watching too much television
- not keeping your apartment clean or taking care of your car
- not making friends

If it's so easy to do the right things all the time, why were you in a rough spot less than a month ago? I bet you had a lot of good excuses for why you weren't performing at maximum capacity. So do your friends and loved ones. It's very easy to overlay your life and desires and history on other people's lives, but it helps no one.

That all said, I have a couple of people in my life who I wish I could pick up and jiggle like the google streetview guy, and I've really cut that back by saying quietly to myself "he's an adult, he's an adult, he's an adult." Also, most people have good reasons to act the way they do - they may not be able to state them clearly, and they may not even know why they're doing what they do - but people do act rationally when you consider the sum of their experience.
posted by punchtothehead at 12:14 PM on May 14 [50 favorites]


It sounds like you're suffering from a common cognitive bias called the Fundamental Attribution Error.

In my experience, awareness of cognitive biases helps me mitigate their impact on my thinking. So read up on it and then when you find yourself feeling critical of people, remind yourself, "Oh yeah, FAE."
posted by Jacqueline at 12:14 PM on May 14 [18 favorites]


Judging other people is self-loathing in action. They may just be nervy enough to like themselves even if they don't meet your standards. They live with the consequences of their choices.

The question you need to ask is why do you care? Why are you judging? Do you see them as a reflection on you? Figure out why other people living their lives offends you and the problem will go away for you.
posted by 26.2 at 12:14 PM on May 14 [19 favorites]


Meditation might be very helpful for you.

It is not really your business what others do with their lives or their time. They are not you. You are not them.

Repeating the phrase "live and let live" when you find yourself becoming irritated might be helpful. You may want to familiarize yourself with ideas about non-attachment as well. Not being attached to outcomes and instead focusing on process has been very helpful for me as someone who is quite a goal-oriented human.
posted by k8lin at 12:16 PM on May 14 [4 favorites]


Because things were easy for you, and because your choices were easy to make, does NOT mean that they are easy for everyone else. Slight over-statement but this reads sort of like heiress saying that a homeless person should quit being lazy and go get a job already. You have no idea of the sorts of things they are dealing with, the sorts of thoughts and emotions they have, and you frankly probably have no sense of what their true goals and motivations are. I would guess that your condescension and judgement come through in your interactions with these people, and if I were them I would just tell you what I knew you wanted to hear (that I wasted my life, that I need a better job, etc). Easier than trying to justify their choices and beliefs to you. So they very well could be living the exact life they would choose, but they would never express that to you because it would just create drama.

So maybe keep in mind that you really can't know what is going on in their heads. And also remind yourself that they have the right to live their life however their choose so long as they aren't hurting anyone else. And they aren't. You may feel they are underemployed or making silly choices, but they aren't your choices to make. Respect these people enough to allow them to lead their lives however they choose.

Your values aren't better than theirs.
Your life choices aren't right for everyone.
You don't know what is best for everyone.



Also, I think you can't truly love someone if you don't respect them, and it sounded very much to me like you don't entirely respect your girlfriend. I personally would be upset if I were her and I read this, having my partner say that I was wasting years and how I'm being basically too lazy to do what needs to be done.
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 12:17 PM on May 14 [4 favorites]


When I get like this, and I sometimes do, I try to think about how inefficient it is for ME to worry about other peoples decisions when they don't want help or advice.

Recently a close family member of mine has been going through a very seriously difficult time and there are a lot of things she should have done differently, but there is no way I could have made her do anything differently. Me worrying about her and her choices only tortures me because in the end they're her choices and she made the best ones she could given her resources. So maybe keep in mind what you're thinking about is really trivial in comparison and that making non life threateningly bad choices is something you just need to let go because you only upset yourself.
posted by SpaceWarp13 at 12:20 PM on May 14 [6 favorites]


Maybe make a list of other values besides work/school/money goals such as human connection, love, compassion, play, growing from failure, nurturing, being in the present, etc. and take a look at life from those perspectives. There may be ways of expanding your own awareness of life that can help you understand your friends and yourself. You might find strengths in your friends that you yourself may be lacking, which in turn can help you have an understanding of how everybody's strengths and weaknesses differ, and allow you to find respect for them.
posted by Vaike at 12:20 PM on May 14 [2 favorites]


You mention all these ways in which your friends have, in your eyes, made mistakes, which therefore make them less worthy of respect in your eyes.

Here is something to consider: Most people I know have absolutely no problem respecting their friends without trying, and yet it's something that's so hard for you that you're seeking advice on how to do it. But that doesn't mean that your problem with respecting your friends is any less real, just because it comes easier to other people.

Juxtapose that idea with the way you think about your friends and family. Someone didn't apply for a job in a timely fashion? Someone struggles to apply to school? Someone moved away rather than apply for local jobs? Remember that not everyone is the same, and what comes easy for other people doesn't necessarily come easy for others.
posted by 23skidoo at 12:22 PM on May 14 [2 favorites]


Judging other people is self-loathing in action.

I would suggest really thinking about this.

This is my experience: sometimes, I get very frustrated with how other people don't do things the way they ought to. I get frustrated with people being slow, or behind, or just wrong. I feel like I'm going full-speed through everything, and no one else is. I feel like there's a plan, A REALLY SIMPLE PLAN, IF YOU FOLLOW IT, and I'm following the plan, AND I HAVE TO FOLLOW THE PLAN, and other people aren't, AND WHAT'S WRONG WITH THEM, and there isn't really anything to do other than how I'm doing things, BECAUSE EVERYTHING ELSE IS DANGEROUS AND BAD AND I'M SO SCARED AND WHAT'S GOING ON IF I STOP I WILL DIE.

...In other words, it's me. It's my anxiety and my depression. It's the wheels in my brain going out of control, and me turning that screaming, pained desperation about myself outwards. It's a defense mechanism, of sorts. If you're so busy being frustrated with everyone and everything else, you are able to ignore the big gaping hole in yourself.

That's me. I don't know if that's you. But when I read your question, I get this feeling. When I read your question, I think I see the hints of a familiar, desperate sorrow, creeping in around the edges of your statements. I could definitely be wrong; I am most definitely interpreting your words through the lens of my own experience. But it may be something to think about. When you feel yourself getting frustrated at others because they're doing things wrong, maybe you can pause, breathe deeply, calm your body and mind down, and ask: "How am I feeling? What's going on with me?" And accept a truthful answer.
posted by meese at 12:25 PM on May 14 [32 favorites]


I think a better perspective is to try to deflect people from talking about their professional/academic problems with you, because they're just going to end up in a car wreck that you both won't be able to stop and won't be able to look away from.

I note that all of these issues are professional/academic issues. Talk to your friends more about their personal lives and less about their professional lives. When it comes to the latter, they need to vent to someone who places as little priority on those things as they do.

I know people who keep complaining to me about the same kinds of challenges and situations they have been complaining about for years and years. They're not going to change their approach, and they are just going to keep having the same problems. At issue is that those problems are things they regard as "the cost of doing business" in their lives and the cost of making significant changes to their mindset and routine are considered to expensive and disruptive to the rest of their lives, which they are generally used to.

Talk about things where you're all on the same "level": relationships, socializing, music, entertainment, etc. bBcause they all have interesting things to say there that you can learn from and respect. Their professional lives aren't in that category, and you guys are on different wavelengths about those things.
posted by deanc at 12:27 PM on May 14 [5 favorites]


If this were me, I would work on just not having the "but I don't respect this person" train of thought. You're clearly cathected on this whole thing - ie, it's pulling up way, way stronger feeling for you than it usually does for people. That's not so great.

You could examine why you are so hung up on this issue. What anxieties do you have that make this such an issue? Seriously, you're minding other people's business really aggressively, and people usually only do that when it fills some need or solves some emotional problem of their own. Do you feel that if other people aren't thinking like you think or succeeding like you succeed, it somehow diminishes or threatens your own success? Do you feel afraid that you will "end up" with the awful fates that these unambitious others have brought on themselves? Do you just have too little excitement in your own life, so your brain is churning over this stuff?

Or you could just go all CBT on this and when you start thinking "but why didn't my friend apply for that internship, how can I respect him when he doesn't do what I would have done", you can just -- cut that thought off. Stop thinking it. Think about something else. Wear a rubber band on your wrist and snap it until you're distracted. Do jumping jacks. If you don't want to disrespect people, stop getting pulled into the question of whether you disrespect them.
posted by Frowner at 12:30 PM on May 14 [3 favorites]


I really agree that I don't understand everyone else's situation, everyone is trying their hardest, they are probably simplifying/agreeing to things to placate me, and that I should meditate and focus on what does matter to me: friendship, kinship, togetherness.

But I still can feel the stress pangs when I think about the "wasted" time, a weird cringe in my mind. I wish I could let go of the stress pangs. I'm not positive if distracting myself will help/work because I tend to get fixated on things that are stress. I really want to let this go but I don't know how. I would love any additional thoughts about this - or maybe I'm just looking too far into this problem and I just need to think about it less, ha.

Thank you to everyone for your input so far, it's been truly amazing. I have a lot to think about.
posted by bbqturtle at 12:36 PM on May 14 [1 favorite]


As others have stated, you are applying your own measures of success onto other people's lives. I know it really seems as though internships/jobs/money is an objective measure of doing well in life, but there are many, many people who do not see it that way.

For some people, the greatest measure of success might be to create new pieces of art. They could look at you and say, "Man, bbqturtle didn't create a single new sculpture or painting last year. What was that year if not wasted?"

You might think that assessment of your life isn't fair. You might have achieved goals, found happiness, and otherwise found fulfillment over the last year. Just because you didn't measure up to someone's expectations doesn't mean that you are wasting your life.
posted by Nightman at 12:36 PM on May 14 [8 favorites]


Meditate on death and that all our time is "wasted" because it won't matter how we spent it, once we're dead.

Or look at pictures of earth taken from space. Or pictures of space itself. Meditate on how small and insignificant all of us are. It will not matter at all in 100 years whether or not your friend got a job in this city or that. It probably won't matter in 10 years.

It's so cliche that I hate to say it, but all that matters is here and now. Keep meditating on that and your attachment to others' decisions will fade.
posted by desjardins at 12:44 PM on May 14 [15 favorites]


My boyfriend is like this, and sometimes I just want to grab all his limbs and move him around like a little puppet so I can MAKE HIM DO THE JOB SEARCHING RIGHT! But that's not productive.

What I have found helpful, on the other hand, is to ask myself, day by day, is this worth it? Does the good in our relationship, right now, outweigh the frustration I feel when he drags his feet on applying to a job (for example)? I say "right now" because that always leaves me room to re-evaluate down the line. Otherwise I get into "but then we're going to be 30 and he's still not going to have a full-time job and we'll never be able to move in together and and and..." Stop. Right now, is this worth it? A Yes is a helpful reminder of all the good that this person brings to your life, independent of their academic/career success. A No means that you can step back from the relationship a bit or set boundaries or whatever you need to do. (Not letting them complain to you about the consequences of their inaction, by the way, is a good boundary, if that's happening.) Leave yourself this out in case you need it, but until it comes down to a No, just remember that they are worth it and you are making the choice to have them in your life despite their imperfections.
posted by sunset in snow country at 12:47 PM on May 14 [6 favorites]


Yeah, this is entirely about you and your own anxiety. You think about their situations, and you think about how Horrible it would be to feel like you wasted your life that way. Or to be that financially insecure. Or less than perfect in any way - if they were you.

And it makes sense to worry about them - you love them! You want them to do well! But it's not about them, it's about the way their situation would feel To You. They made those choices, they're "easy-going" (ie, not driven by anxiety), and so they're not reacting to those situations the way you would.

So realizing that this is all about you, ask yourself what in each of these situations makes you feel so anxious. Why would "wasting" a year of your life on learning and enjoying time with your friends be so awful? Why would taking an internship far away that was slightly inconvenient be a horrible choice For You?

This is the sort of thing therapy was Great at helping me with. I still have leaky boundaries, especially when people I love are really hurting. But I can begin to see that a lot of my anxiety is really about how I would feel in that situation, and I'm not the one in that situation, and I can't know their feelings about it - nor fix it for them. Like one of the posters above, I get a lot of mileage from, "they're an adult, they can make choices for themselves, even if I disagree with them sometimes. They're an adult!"

One last note: if you do try therapy sometime, you might look into why you feel responsible and protective of those fellow adults. That's sometimes a trait of adult children of alcoholics, it's sometimes a trait of a child who was made to feel "responsible" for other reasons. Good on you for trying to address this stuff while you're still young.
posted by ldthomps at 12:49 PM on May 14 [8 favorites]


You may be stressed about the "wasted" time because (at least with the girlfriend and brother) this is someone important in your life and, if you continue in the relationship, it could become permanent. Then that person's decisions will affect you.

If this is someone who you want to share your life/finances/goals with, then that makes sense. You want to be with someone who shares your priorities. Accepting your girlfriend for who she is - laid-back, experientially rather than financially driven, etc., means opening up *your* choices/finances to that style.

But that is who she is. And that is who your brother is. Being driven only by finances or what's useful on paper (surely she *learned* things in that wasted year?) keeps you from enjoying what is because you're watching for what's coming.

There's nothing wrong with how you see things if you're happy that way. But there's also nothing wrong with how others see things if they're happy that way. What I would suggest is that if someone expresses concern about their situation, reply by saying you're happy to help if they ask, and then let it go.
posted by headnsouth at 12:52 PM on May 14 [1 favorite]


Think about your life. What are the good things you remember? Are they experiences and time spent with others or are they when you bought an iPhone?

I hate to be a real downer, but something will happen to you at some point that will put this all into perspective, i.e. a death, serious illness, accident. Don't wait until it happens to realize how much you enjoyed life with these special people.
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 12:53 PM on May 14 [3 favorites]


When I am unhappy I tend to be judgmental. It's when I feel that things are going wrong in my life, or held together by a fraying thread, that I look outward for others' shortcomings. Maybe because it makes me feel better in comparison. Maybe because it's simpler to judge others' actions than my own (since I can make infinite excuses for my own shortcomings but allow others none).

When I'm happy I just don't have the same focus on other people's faults. I tend to be more empathetic and forgiving. I also have more strength to set boundaries and take care of myself so I don't wind up resentfully listening to someone complaining about the same thing for the 50th time.

So instead of "working on trying to be less judgmental of others" I might suggest instead for you to work on being happy yourself. Volunteer. Exercise. Get sleep. Cook yummy food. Get therapy and/or face your emotions about money with a budgeting class or coach. Sometimes the solutions to our mental knots are physical and emotional.
posted by rogerrogerwhatsyourrvectorvicto at 12:53 PM on May 14 [4 favorites]


I understand where you're coming from, because I've had the exact same criticism laid against me.

See, for most of my work life, I've been a tech contractor. In fact, I still am. I like it, it fits my needs right now. From an outside perspective, from those who have regular, steady work, it looks like I'm frittering away my life in between jobs. Like, I'm taking lengthy vacations and trips, sitting on my butt playing XBox 12 hours a day, or some other activity that they find is frivolous and time wasting. Because I'm not living out their perception of what an adult should be doing for employment and money.

What they don't see (and won't see, because they don't really ask), is that I am on my computer for the majority of the day - practicing my Python coding skills and learning new technologies, to keep up on my field (like going through the Udacity Web Programming online course). Sending out resumes and talking to recruiters. Going to interviews. And having to budget something fierce, because yes - when I'm employed, I make a decent amount of coin. But when I don't? I have to live off of my savings because I don't know when I'm going to be employed next. So, no - I don't have a house. I rent a room. Because I also have to pay for COBRA (now a Silver Plan) for my health insurance. And now, that I've started going back to school for Comp. Sci? I have to pay for that out of my own pocket because I don't have an employer-backed Tuition Assistance program to help me out.

So, yes. It could be that they are truly 'wasting their time'. Or, there might be something deeper going on here. Even if they are wasting their time, if they don't see it as such, is it really time wasted? It is their life, after all.
posted by spinifex23 at 1:02 PM on May 14 [2 favorites]


Don't ask yourself "how smart is this person?" but "how is this person smart?" Maybe these folks don't have your time management skills, but are great listeners, amazing musicians, talented observers of human nature...just because their goals do not mesh with your does not mean they are doing things wrong.
posted by chaiminda at 1:06 PM on May 14 [7 favorites]


I am somewhat the same way sometimes-- I see people I'm close to talk and talk and talk about doing something that then not do it and it drives me crazy. I disagree with some of the other answers re: that this means I'm motivated by money or don't value experiences or whatever. It's that I want people I love to get what they want, and it frustrates me when they fall short of that in my eyes. (i.e. Super smart friend who always talked about going to college procrastinating on the applications and then settling down into motherhood and low paying work instead, or father constantly talking about moving from the town that he is unhappy in and never doing it, or friend complaining about boyfriend but staying with him, etc etc.)

I think, in addition to the other great answers you've recieved, an important thing that I have realized is that sometimes people tell you what they think you want to hear from them. My friend knew that I valued college, so she talked as if she was going to go even though she wasn't sure herself. Or my friend knows that I think they'd be happier in a different relationship, so she acts as though she'll leave her current one. It's not that they're lying to me, they're just adjusting the way they talk about their future in a way that I'll respond to. It might not even be concious. People don't necessarily tell you the whole story. This seems particularly likely in your third example.

For me, reminding myself that other people have different priorities than me is key. And getting older has helped, too. There are lots of ways that people find success in their lives. Ten years later, my friend who had a baby in her teens is happy and stable. Friends who dropped ot of college have gone back. Friends who didn't go to college have built careers.
posted by geegollygosh at 1:17 PM on May 14 [8 favorites]


IMHO you really need to ponder over and accept that not everyone in this world is driven/motivated by success, money or 'prestige'.

You mention your girlfriend needs to apply to college and is worried about meeting the deadline, but you're critical because you don't believe it should take more than a day. Have you ever applied to college? More importantly - have you ever applied to a MEDICAL/NURSING college? I assure you, it takes more than a single day. You need copies of transcripts (HS and college), you need financial documentation (yours and your parents, generally) and likely letters of recommendation/reference. These things take time to compile (it can take weeks/months to get official transcripts sometimes). Not only that, but applying to a nursing college also means there's a very real chance of being rejected. This chance is far less likely when applying to something like community college. This fear of rejection may be holding her back. But you wouldn't know, because you've chalked this up to a lack of motivation/ambition, without taking into consideration the true WORK involved in applying to (medical) colleges. It's also important to remember that your girlfriend likely has other things eating up her time - squeezing in the time to apply to a medical college may simply not be possible for her.

You were also critical of her for 'wasting time' by taking courses that didn't really apply to her intended degree. Based on your post(s), it seems like she might be struggling with the direction she wants her schooling to go. Maybe she took those other courses because she thought they were for her degree and only learned after the fact that they wouldn't count. Maybe she had an interest in those areas specifically and wanted to get a better feel before declaring a major change. I did this during my college years when I began to feel as though a teaching career would be ideal for me. I took a few preparatory courses in Childhood Education (which did NOT count towards the degree I was going for at the time). I did not become a teacher. Do I consider those courses 'wasted time'? Not at all! I've no regret because through those courses I discovered teaching was NOT the career field for me.

You mention your brother is stuck in what YOU consider to be a dead-end job. You're critical of him for not seeking out something more. But your view is based on the very narrow belief that, like you, he is motivated by money/prestige. Maybe your brother doesn't make what YOU feel he's worth, but maybe he likes his job anyway. Maybe it's a fun job. Maybe it's a great, supportive environment. Maybe he really likes his co-workers. Maybe he doesn't feel qualified to move on yet. A job cannot be carved down to simply which company pays the most/can advance you. Job culture is a very real thing and tends to foster employee loyalty. I have stayed at lower paying jobs because I was not ready to leave the environment yet. This could be the case for your brother. Have you even asked him if he wants a different job? And even if he does, you really have NO way of knowing whether he would've gotten a job you suggested had he applied sooner. You're really going out on a limb with that one.

In regards to your friend and her intern position... maybe she doesn't want to stay in the same place. Maybe that's the point - to be somewhere new - to try something new - to go outside of her comfort zone. Clearly, her unhappiness with the housing/position isn't enough to prevent her from wanting to go anyway - maybe there is some other appeal there that she's simply not telling you. Her desire to take the position regardless makes me think she doesn't want to stick around in the area and so the jobs there aren't appealing to her yet.

It's easy to be judgmental when you feel you have your life all 'together', but it's important to remember that that's all you have: your life is together the way that fits -you-. Now let the people in your life get their lives together the way that fits -them-.
posted by stubbehtail at 1:18 PM on May 14 [5 favorites]


I think that it might help if you set some quiet time aside, and sit by yourself to really examine this anxiety. Follow the anxiety past "OMG, everyone my life is useless", to the underlying fears. Are you afraid that you will have to end up financially supporting your brother? Is prolonging school for your girlfriend going to delay 'milestones' in your relationship like moving in together or getting married? Are you worried about your friend living far away because you'll miss her? If that's the case, then focus on solutions for those scenarios.

Maybe you'll discover something worth unpacking, or maybe you'll realize that the crux of your stress is just, "I would live their lives differently". And that's perfectly understandable, but then you have to ask yourself, why do you think everyone should live the way you do? Do you think that your way is the only way to live a good life?

I think its admirable that you're willing to examine this, but ultimately, it's going to be your personal introspection, and not mefites who can answer this question.
posted by tinymegalo at 1:18 PM on May 14 [2 favorites]


How can I respect those people that have more difficulty doing (seemingly) simple tasks? How can I show them respect in my interactions with them?

This whole "respect" thing is contemporary claptrap. Respect is something one earns, not a default state. I like and love my friends but very few of them have done things beyond the normal struggle through daily life that makes me explicitly respect them. If what you're actually saying is that you think less of or friends because they are not living their lives as you see fit, then the problem there is you, not them, and you should likely work on your micromanagement.

How can I stop suggesting easy solutions to easy problems?

By understanding that it's Not About the Nail. (Yup, that's a parody, but it's a parody of a very true thing: unless they ask for advice, people generally do not want your advice -- they want their friends to listen and be sympathetic.)
posted by DarlingBri at 1:21 PM on May 14 [1 favorite]


applying for a school can't be that difficult. It shouldn't take longer than a day.

That really stood out to me. Certainly for me, when I applied to grad school and to undergrad, the process took much longer than 1 day. In fact, I spent months on it.

I also noticed that you have a prior question asking for ideas for a term paper that was due in 2 weeks. I think a lot of people would pick a topic a lot sooner than that so they'd have more time to work on the paper.

So, I wonder if part of the reason things seem to come much more "easily" to you is because you just don't spend as much time working on them? To others, a job or school application might be something they feel like they need to put a lot of work into, so it's not just some simple task.

There's definitely a danger of going too far in that direction, where perfectionism prevents someone from getting a project completed, but consider that there may also be some positives to taking a more thorough approach as well.
posted by Asparagus at 1:21 PM on May 14


You talk about applications both times. I think it's interesting to read about satisficers vs maximizers. As in most dichotomies, a particular system usually favors one over the other. Our work/study/career world tends to favor satisficers.

You sound like a satisficer. I know I am one. "Often wrong, never in doubt." If it's something interesting, I'd rather bang out an application now than wait. But some people are not like that. They want to put in the perfect application. They want to research the institute, figure out who will likely be reading their application. They want to know if they would even be happy at this new place. And it often means so much work that nothing gets done at all.

The other thing is that you have probably put in lots of applications because you don't see them as a big deal. So now you can put in a good application without that much work. But for them, they've only done it so many times, so it is a much more daunting task, that needs research. And they need to be well rested and in a good mood to work on.

Successful maximizers have learned how to deal with their need to optimize everything. It sounds like those people in your life are still learning that. I wouldn't say that wasted 1-2 years; I would say they have been learning other--important--lessons.

There are circumstances where being a maximizer is helpful. Certain occupations favor it, as well as certain projects. It is in generally better in various parts of construction, for example, because if you hang a door, you want it done right. Not just almost right. But actually, properly correct so that even when the house settles, the door will still close mostly as expected.
posted by ethidda at 1:29 PM on May 14 [4 favorites]


I don't care what they do. I don't care if they don't do well...... I support their actions through and through

Ummm, no apparently you don't support them. Did any of them (brother, friend, girlfriend, other people) ask you for advice, or do you simply feel you know better than they do about their jobs or schooling or whatever and therefore they should just do what you tell them to do?

This is pretty disrespectful of you, so why in the world would you expect to be respected by people you habitually treat badly? Respect is a two-way street: you don't get given respect for free, you earn it by being respectful to other people.

Maybe your brother likes his job, even though you apparently consider it a dead end. So what? It's his job, not yours. Maybe your girlfriend is only considering that school because she feels you're pushing her into it: it's not really her choice, it's yours. And to be totally honest, perhaps your friend is considering an internship far away because it is far away --- far away from you and your superior attitude, and she won't have to feel obligated to you like she would with one of the internships you found.
posted by easily confused at 1:58 PM on May 14 [1 favorite]


There's a book called The Art of a Beautiful Game and one of the chapters in it is about Kobe Bryant. Kobe, if you're unfamiliar, is a surefire Hall of Famer and a legendary talent that is also famous for not getting along with his teammates. In the book, one of his coaches is talking about what he had to do when Kobe came on board, which is convince him that it is impossible for anyone to care about basketball as much as he does. Everybody on the team is doing the best they can. I've seen videos where Kobe's talking about the techniques he uses when he plays and he just doesn't understand that not everyone can be covered 3 on 1 and find a way around it. If you have no idea what I'm talking about, good, that's exactly how it feels to them when you're all GOSH GUYS IT'S SOOOOO EASY. I mean, come on, just use your jabstep and headfake to get the first guy in the air, then spin around him and drive towards the basket and use a pullup jumper to get the deuce. So easy.

Anyway, what people want from you 99% of the time isn't advice or scolding. What they want from you is validation, that you're listening to them and understand what they're going through. They have to live their own lives. You can't optimize it for them.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 2:07 PM on May 14 [16 favorites]


How can I respect the people that don't always fend for themselves?

You could start by realizing that five of your eight past AskMe questions (including this one) start with "Help me".
posted by destructive cactus at 2:58 PM on May 14 [24 favorites]


I haven't read all the responses (except for your additions), so please forgive me if I'm rehashing what others are saying.

I am both you, and the people who drive you nuts. I am wildly ambitious, I have had some great breaks in my life that I know for a fact came from being at the right place at the right time with the right mojo to make it happen. And I am also incredibly good at sitting on my ass and watching a missed opportunity that I really wanted sail right on by without looking up from my haagen dasz. I cringe at how much of my life that I pretty much, yes, wasted by spending time on what made me content at the moment. And at the same time, I also know that many of those opportunities that I let pass me by, I probably wouldn't have gotten, or would not have been able to benefit from them, because the person I was at the time wasn't ready for them. If I had been ready, whether emotionally or mentally or physically, I would have applied / applied myself. I know enough about myself at this late age to know that getting the opportunity isn't the same as deserving it - or knowing what to do with it when you have it.

There's a line I like to use about why I haven't gone further in my career despite starting out so high-flying (especially when so many of the colleagues I started with as babies are now making headlines in my industry): "When it came to choosing happiness or career, I chose happiness. I got the happiness, but..." So yeah, I have some regrets, and some sense of having wasted chunks of my life. But I also have the knowledge that I made my choices and by and large I've been pretty happy about my life. I got the happiness. Some of my successful friends - maybe didn't. We each take our own road.

If these people's choices are not actively impacting on you, then try to understand that they are helping build them as people. Sometimes it takes looking back on a failure that was all your own doing, to get the nerve or drive to try for the next thing. Scolding or shaking will never get you there, no matter how much the scold-er loves you. But self-assessment can. And sometimes it takes what you call wasted chances to appreciate the value of the chances you find.
posted by Mchelly at 3:06 PM on May 14 [4 favorites]


You ask about the wasted time. The thing is -- Hindsight is 20-20. She wasted a year improving her GPA, which ended up not mattering. Did she know at the outset that her GPA was going to be irrelevant?

I'm (maybe like you) someone who tries to optimize efficiency. As I've gotten older, I've realized that some significant portion of my freak outs are because I really don't know what to do. It's been a breakthrough to realize that in many situations, it is nearly impossible or at least costly to get enough information to feel more sure about my decision. Sometimes you must take the info you have, roll the dice, and move forward.

The situation you cite -- apply for grad school now, or improve her GPA first -- is such a parallel to some of those situations for me. How much time and money might she waste by, say, interviewing admission clerks about GPA requirements, or doing both (applying while enrolled in GPA-boosting classes)? How does that waste compare to how much time and money she wasted by just picking one choice and moving forward with it? IS it even a waste, if the knowledge she gained helped her in her first year of nursing school?

At a certain point, it helps to accept and pre-forgive oneself (or one's friends) for the fact that none of you truly know what will turn out to be the perfect choice and that you are all making decisions based on a limited set of information, influenced by what you value, fear, etc. E.g., if your GF is afraid of failure or insecure about her academic chops, the impact of being rejected might've discouraged her more deeply than someone else, making it much smarter for her to maximize her chances of being accepted on the first go-round. Maybe subconsciously, she wanted one more year of preparation. Are you sure that the extra year of study didn't help her succeed in nursing school?

For me all this maximizing-efficiency tied in closely to anxiety and perfectionism. Maybe that's a factor for you too.
posted by salvia at 3:12 PM on May 14 [1 favorite]


I don't care if they don't do well, they are my friends and I support their actions through and through.

I have been seeing this a lot, lately-- the idea that you need to "support" people in whatever they're doing. Not true! It is totally valid to say, "Well, I would choose path X in those circumstances, and obviously you are making choice Y." People need to be true to themselves, even if that means making decisions different than what you would have made, or even different than goals they claim they have. But it ok for you to be true to yourself, so it is perfectly valid when someone confronts you with one of these circumstances to say, "We have been through this problem of yours before. Can we talk about something else?"

It may ultimately occur to you that who your friends are based on what they do is different than who you thought they were based on what they say. And this might cause you to lose respect for them because they aren't who you thought they were. That's ok too!
posted by deanc at 3:17 PM on May 14 [1 favorite]


As someone with good Google-fu, good social awareness, and with a job that I am proud of, how can I respect those people that don't always fend for themselves?

May I gently suggest that you stop projecting your fear that it will all go wrong on to your family and friends? Because you are more or less engaged in a round about back-pat by what you are doing.
posted by Ironmouth at 3:19 PM on May 14 [4 favorites]


How can I respect those people that have more difficulty doing (seemingly) simple tasks?
There's no magical trick to suddenly make you respect someone. You either respect them or you don't. Apparently, you don't. However:
How can I show them respect in my interactions with them? How can I stop suggesting easy solutions to easy problems?
You can treat them with respect regardless of whether you respect them or not. As to how to do it, you seem to be all of the opinion that things are easy and can be easily accomplished and that people should accomplish those easy things. So why don't you just do it? Just don't be a jerk to them? It's easy if you try.
P.S. I really, really don't mean to come off condescending at all. If that is your remark, that I am a jerk and I need to be more respectful, I would love to know what train of thought is wrong, and how I can inspire respect.
Well, for one thing, you seem to have invested a large amount of your perceived self-worth in the idea that you have a good job and so forth, and think that you deserve "respect" because of that. First of all, I think you should try to understand that not everyone feels that their self-worth relies upon their job, nor that they should be respected or not because of the job they hold. Second, frankly, I think you should be made aware that many people probably don't respect you as much as you think they do merely because of your job.
posted by Flunkie at 3:24 PM on May 14 [16 favorites]


I've sort of been on both sides of this. My parents are both highly organized over-achievers, and (partly because of their model) I spent much of my childhood feeling like I was Bad At Life. In early schooling, I would just blow off all my homework. Even as I got older, I never planned for long-term projects, I never asked anyone for what I wanted, I never really made plans to pursue goals. My parents would be, like, "Well, you say you want to do well on this project, but you don't actually want it. If you did, you would do x, y, z." In fact I've spent years of my life doing things that, if I had planned carefully, I would have never done. I consider that time wasted -- which is not to say I didn't get anything out of it, or even that I could have done better, being who I then was.

Now that I'm a little older, I'm better at these things. And now I know people (mostly younger people) who seem to have this same problem, that you characterize as not "trying" -- they don't plan, they miss deadlines, they waste time doing nothing when they really need to do something, they don't make serious efforts to get what they apparently want.

You might not understand that what you call "trying" is a skill. Planning, coordinating, staying on top of things, staying focused -- it's a complex set of behaviors, some of which have to be learned, and with which some people have much more facility than others. Some people might be bad at it because of attentional issues, in which case what they need is psychological interventions. Some people might be bad at it because they've grown up in a world where these skills are not virtues -- there's little point in planning if you live in a chaotic environment over which you have no control.

Some people might be bad at these skills because they don't care that much -- which is fine, too! It's kind of bullshit to say that the parochial skills that I happen to specialize in / be good at are coincidentally the most important skills that determine everyone's human worth. My brother is a very good kayaker, but he doesn't post on here saying, "How can I possibly respect people who can't kayak?"

Put your own mastery in perspective -- you are good at a cluster of skills that serve you well and give you a better life. That doesn't mean everyone else is a loser.
posted by grobstein at 3:33 PM on May 14 [12 favorites]


I have this problem too. I get really annoyed when people close to me do things that I know will bite them later.

I realized that I had unspoken assumptions about how it's going to impact me. I had previously assumed I would bail out people by pulling an all-nighter to do the work they screwed up, or lending them money, etc. I decided to be firm and not rescue them. As soon as I decided that, I felt a lot better. For example:

- "Because X didn't take my advice in our group project, the project is probably going to fail." Was previously going to do all the work myself. Instead solved by cutting my losses by mentally writing off the money and time I spent, moving on immediately to a new project, and also deciding never to work with X again.

- "Y refused to listen to me on setting a budget. He's going to come crying to me next month when he's panicked for money." Was previously going to yell at Y and then lend him money. Instead solved by deciding that I will cut Y off mid-sentence no matter how badly he's crying, and definitely won't lend money.

- "Z won't take my suggestions on how to edit his work, but then wants me to introduce him to influential people who can publish his work." Was previously going to yell at Z and then make the introduction. Instead solved by deciding not to make the introduction, even though this will piss off Z.

I'm now much more relaxed. It actually took a lot of courage to say that I would not bail out my friends. It was actually easier to just yell at them but then bail them out.
posted by cheesecake at 3:35 PM on May 14 [4 favorites]


The desire you have to micromanage the lives of others borders on being pathological. Nobody owes you anything. Why are you treating others you supposedly care about as though their value to you is hinged only on their ability to fulfill your world view?
posted by Hermione Granger at 4:04 PM on May 14 [4 favorites]


Additionally, have you considered how much time you aware by fixating on other people in this way? Give the advice you'd give to others back to yourself! ;)
posted by Hermione Granger at 4:05 PM on May 14 [1 favorite]


*you waste by fixating
posted by Hermione Granger at 4:11 PM on May 14


An idle thought: I bet there will come a time in your life when you get laid off, have a terrible relationship, get depressed or otherwise "fail" in some way - maybe make a terrible financial decision, for instance. (I have a relative, normally quite shrewd, who lost a big chunk of money on a really stupid investment - and he's definitely a financial brain in the ordinary course of things.) What I get from this question is that you value yourself because you have a good job and because you "do things right". You're cruising for a fall, there, because no one gets through life without a few failures. What are you going to think about yourself if your field dries up and blows away due to some totally unforseen economic or technological change? One advantage to letting others "fail" is that you practice being a little forgiving toward yourself.
posted by Frowner at 4:13 PM on May 14 [5 favorites]


sometimes it's about the process, not the result.

also, people sometimes need to "waste time" or make mistakes before they realize the importance of something.
posted by bearette at 4:35 PM on May 14


I am you. I basically took a lot of risks and worked hard to get where I am. I sometimes get frustrated with people (mainly people who are close to me) when I feel like they complain about things all the time but don't take the (to me) simple steps it takes to help themselves get out of the situation.

A recent example: my sister is always complaining about how her job doesn't pay well. She did it again recently, complaining that she only got something like a one or two percent annual raise. I told her that (imo) that's kind of par for the course these days and oftentimes the only real way to get a decent raise these days is to switch jobs. I've said similar things to her before and she has never really changed her situation and while it used to frustrate me a lot more, now I kind of accept that she does what she does for a reason and she'll find whatever works for her.

But this time, when I told her that they way to get a raise is to get a new job she told me that she didn't want to do that because she thought her current place had really great potential for advancement so she wanted to wait it out. Which....great! That's a perfectly fine reason! I may or may not make the same decision but her reasoning was fine. And I never would have known had she not mentioned it. So all the past times when I gave her what I thought was simple advice that she seemed to disregard, she probably had an equally decent reason for doing what she did, she just didn't mention it to me. So, again, you don't know what people are thinking or the rationale they have for their actions. And, to be fair, it's probably not really any of your business anyway.

As far as not getting stressed out about it - I have a little trick I use when I start to feel like I'm being unfairly judgmental. I always try to look for things that the other person does really well that I'm not as good at. So, I might be judging my sister for not doing what I think are simple things that will make certain parts of her life better, but you know what she does do? She is a really great, empathetic and patient listener. She could listen to people for hours, offering a sympathetic ear. Honestly, if people go on for more than a few minutes, I get really, really impatient. And that's kind of a selfish, assholeish trait that I wish I were better at. My sister is awesome at it.

Another person I know complains a lot but won't take even the most easy, basic steps to improve the thing he's complaining about also happens to be the most likeable person I have ever met. Everyone likes this guy, he is so easy to talk to and charismatic and engaging. My entire life I've always wanted to be that kind of a person and I never have and at this point I've accepted that I probably never will be. If I asked him how he does it - how he makes friends so effortlessly and how he gets people to like him instantly - he'd probably tell me it's easy. I bet he'd be a little baffled over what I don't get about it. But that shit will never be easy for me. And that's what it is. We all have different skill sets and strengths. You just happen to focus on the ones that you're really good at. Maybe try to find the things in other people that they're really good at and see if you can admire them for that.
posted by triggerfinger at 5:09 PM on May 14 [4 favorites]


I would try to pinpoint, and work with, the intense feelings of anxiety and catastrophism that other people's minor setbacks are triggering in you, and which you're dealing with by turning them into resentment and disrespect.

This jumped out at me in a response you made: "I was raised lower income so it's hard for me to ignore the dollar signs in every decision."

Are you afraid that your friends/family's easy-going attitudes are going to doom them to a life of poverty? Are they from a high enough social class that you know they will never really have to worry about money, and you're feeling resentment because they actually *can* "ignore the dollar signs"?

I'd also try to look at how much of your feelings of superiority are based on ignorance and backhanded validation-seeking behavior. Unless your girlfriend is dropping in to take some courses at your local community college, there is no such thing as an institute of higher education that you can bang out an application for in a single day. Claiming that "applying for a school can't be that difficult. It shouldn't take longer than a day." doesn't make you sound like a superachieving Kobe Bryant, it makes you sound like you don't know what you're talking about. The fact that you talk about your age and tagged this post, "yolo" makes me wonder exactly how young you are-- you sound like you have a lot of learning to do about how the world works.

And "As someone with good Google-fu, good social awareness, and with a job that I am proud of, how can I respect those people that don't always fend for themselves?" just sounds like you're trolling for compliments. Are you? Do you feel like you aren't getting as much praise as you should be? Do you feel like your friends and family's being relaxed and easy-going while having lives that don't look as good on paper as yours diminishes the recognition you feel like you deserve for your accomplishments?

As other mefites said, the answer is inside you; you need to really look at the root of all these things and work through them. I don't know any mantras for dealing with controlling behavior, but it's a huge step that you're aware this is going on and want to deal with it.
posted by moonlight on vermont at 6:22 PM on May 14 [8 favorites]


An example of catastrophizing: why is this post tagged 'unemployment'? None of the people you talk about are out of work. Is there actually a much bigger problem going on than the things you're complaining about, like you were financially supporting your girlfriend through the year of classes she can't use in her application and should have known about if she'd checked? Or are you just associating this kind of "inaction" with dropping out of the workforce? What's going on there?
posted by moonlight on vermont at 6:32 PM on May 14 [8 favorites]


Now, my profession is easier and I am younger and had more success earlier in life, and my profession is in high demand and I have everything pretty good, so sometimes it's hard for me to compare.

This is pretty much the reason right here. You are young. Everything you've done has worked out exactly how you meant it to. So you think that to get to point B you just head directly towards it. And why would you believe any differently when that's worked for you each time?

One day it is not going to work for you. One day you will do everything exactly right and correct and it will still go balls up and explode in your face. It might be work or relationship related, maybe health. No one has a life that continues on a trajectory of perfection from birth to death.

After, when you see someone doing something the "wrong" way, you'll remember when you did everything the RIGHT way and it didn't work, and you'll be able to fully understand that there is no right way. The world isn't a set of rules that if you follow correctly you get the results you want. Humans have carved out little pockets of order, but it's mostly an illusion. Life is chaos, and often it makes no damn sense.

You may be having such a deep emotional reaction to your friends and family not strictly adhering to the "rules", because following the rules helps with your anxiety, and watching people wander off the path and into the weeds freaks you out. Finding out the path has its own set of traps and dangers might clear up that judgement you have of others, but I'll warn you, it's gonna keep you up at night.
posted by Dynex at 9:22 PM on May 14 [17 favorites]


I find it helpful to remind myself that every damn one of us is doing the best that we can with the rotten and uneven luck we've been given. Regardless of whether I can see it at the moment or not.
posted by 168 at 4:27 AM on May 15 [4 favorites]


Another anecdotal example - I have a great job in my dream field, about to finish my degree, have paid off a crazy amount of CC debt and student loans. But I'm in my mid (...late) 30s, and I am terrified of what people might be thinking of me. So, I guess I'm a success to you and other people that define "success" as having money and a good job, but to me, I am just envious of people who know who they are and stick to their guns no matter what. Even if they don't have any money or a good job.
posted by getawaysticks at 6:25 AM on May 15 [2 favorites]


I think that this ask from someone whose boyfriend considers her to be illogical could be a place to start gaining empathy for the people around you, and to see how they may view you.

Sometimes when people say "I'm worried I won't get X done in time," they are asking for help. Sometimes when people say that, they are giving voice to fears they know are foolish, to a person that is safe to express those fears to. Sometimes they need to talk through all the steps to figure out if they really can get it done in time. None of these things are actually related to the reality of not being able to do X in time. That said, in reference to your specific examples:

-it took 1-4 months to get my grad and undergrad applications done, depending on how you count it. A lot of that was waiting to get things back from other people and institutions--letters of recommendation, transcripts, comments on my essay. Cross-referencing all that stuff, figuring out what needs to get sent to where and by what time, takes a couple of days on its own. I was not procrastinating (um, for once.)
-In the case of your brother's application, it doesn't sound like an earlier application would have done him any good; my assumption would be that they decided not to hire that position if they pulled the job before the application period was over. Maybe he put it off because the new job looked more stressful. Perhaps he's grateful to not have put all the work into an application, for no gain at the end.
-In the case of your friend's internship, perhaps you do not know her field as well as she does. I have had a lot of people suggest jobs that they think are within my somewhat unusual field. They almost never are. And if she's already made a commitment to this internship, she could see it as reflecting poorly on her if she backs out at this time. Being flaky can have long-term implications for her career.

The people around you are running different predictive simulations than you are. They have had different experiences, and different preferences, and as a result weight the data they have differently. I think respecting them is the starting point, not the end point: If you respect them, you can assume that they are doing the best they can for themselves with what they have. As you are. As we all are.
posted by tchemgrrl at 6:41 AM on May 15


People aren't always right about what they want. If I hadn't "wasted" time preparing for, applying to, attending, and quickly dropping the fuck out of grad school, I would not have moved to NYC with $50, gotten a paralegal job through luck and friendship, and ended up as a blissfully happy lawyer. My life has been a big surprise party where the surprise is, I was super wrong about everything (e.g. "I'm gonna be a poet! Law is for not-mes!"). It's tempting to think of life as having a direct path from NOW to GOAL, but it's pretty chaotic, and seemingly inefficient paths can have really happy endings. Maybe your GF met someone in one of those wasted classes who will become an important connection and get her a dream job in five years. Or maybe this time she spent will teach her some important lessons that will help her achieve GOAL: AWESOME PERSON-BEING. Or maybe none of it will matter because of factors outside of our control and/or aliens.

I agree, it's frustrating to see inefficiency. Try to steer conversations away from the kinds of goals that stress you out and remember that the paths you see aren't all the paths there are.
posted by prefpara at 9:12 AM on May 15 [3 favorites]


As Dynex points out, you come across as very young. Your point of view is understandable given that you are (according to your posting history) recently out of college, where everything moves in yearly increments, or by semester or whatever. At this stage in life, you can accomplish goals in these nice little packages of time. If you keep hitting all your marks at this level, it seems logical to think that in ten years you're going to be exactly ten steps father along, while that other person is going to be zero steps along. Not the case at all. You're not in a position yet to know how complex these things are. You're basically still thinking like a college undergraduate.

It is perfectly possibly that these other people are not optimizing their possibilities but it really is none of your business unless, say, you are serious about your girlfriend but worry that she doesn't want the same things as you. Or if your brother is asking you for financial support. Otherwise, not your problem.
posted by BibiRose at 9:20 AM on May 15


If anyone had specific mental exercises/mantras that could help with letting go of the feeling of needing to control other people/have everything be perfect, that would be amazing.

Here are a few mantra ideas:

"There are probably a lot of things I don't know about that situation."
"If I were in that situation, a lot of things would probably be different."

You can phrase them as questions if that works better for you:

"What don't I know about that situation?"
"What would be different about that, if it were me?"

So, for

Currently, my girlfriend is applying for a different school, and she knows the deadline is June 20. She has expressed concern about making the deadline, but applying for a school can't be that difficult. It shouldn't take longer than a day.

What don't know you about that situation?

What other stresses are going on in her life?
Is she excited and confident about getting into that school?
Does she have any misgivings about leaving her current school?
What exactly IS involved in applying? Is there a FAFSA to fill out? Are there issues with that? Are there recommendations she has to gather? Is there maybe someone she has to talk to or rely on for the application that will be hard for her to do?

What might be different for you?

When you have tasks that seem (a) important and (b) daunting, do you have a lot of experience battling the intimidation and breaking it down into manageable tasks? Does she?
Do you like to finish things way ahead of the deadline or wait until the deadline is closer? Is that different for her? Are there ever any good reasons to wait, like more information becoming available or big blocks of time opening up a few weeks down the road?

... and so on.

Finally, if you'd like to actually find out a bit more about what's going on with people, consider asking, and really completely listening. DO NOT offer advice, suggestions, your own stories, or anything other than a response indicating you've heard what's being said - something like "Wow, that sounds really difficult/exciting/whatever." So if your girlfriend mentions the application, you could say, "How's that going?" and JUST LISTEN. Everything she tells you can help you understand a little more about what it's like for her.
posted by kristi at 6:22 PM on May 15 [1 favorite]


You need to get out of your head and realize life is not a series of hurdles. Try doing a meditative, completely useless day once in a while, and do not try to accomplish anything. Ride a bus, hang out in a market, hike, sneak into a convention and just watch and be silent.

Also, consider that in 20 years you may be wishing that you "wasted" your youth and enjoyed yourself, rather than being ambitious and judging others.
posted by benzenedream at 1:26 AM on May 16


For a practical and helpful approach for dealing with all the "They should just"s as they come into your mind and lead you down an unhelpful rabbit hole of other people's problems, I really strongly recommend Byron Katie's "Loving What Is". She has a helpful set of questions to ask yourself every time these thoughts come up, and what I think is a helpful framework for accepting yourself, the people around you, and 'what is.'
posted by Salamandrous at 8:38 AM on May 16 [1 favorite]


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