You’re standing in the checkout line. As usual, the line is too long. On both sides of you all you can see are empty registers.
The shopper behind you heaves a sigh. You think to yourself “she gets it.” So you strike up a conversation that goes something like:
“I should have known better than to come here. They never have enough registers open”
“Oh my gosh! Yes! I was thinking the same thing.”
“They know how busy it gets around this time. Why don’t they open another register now?
“That’s messed-up, right?”
“I know, right?”
Your little rant didn’t make the line shorter, but it did accomplish its purpose…it made you feel better.
Complaining is like that. We get to give a voice to our frustrations and if we find another who understands…even better.
But I learned from David Allen, author of Getting Things Done that a complaint is nothing more than an acknowledgement that something could be different and should be different, but you’re not involved in making it so.
That really changed my mind about complaining. I didn’t stop complaining and I’m not saying you should either. If you see something that’s wrong or should be changed—yes, you should speak up about it. There’s no benefit in going into denial and pretending you don’t see what you see.
But I am saying you should challenge the belief that the only thing you can do is complain—that you can’t change it—that you can’t make a difference.
Every time you see something that could be different and should be different, think “What could I do to change it—to improve it—to fix it?” You don’t have to go around righting all wrongs. That would be exhausting. But if you start believing you can make a difference, you’ve actually got a shot at making a difference.
But you can’t do it alone.
Every change in the world requires people—many people—to act differently. The change may start with you, but eventually you will need the cooperation of others. Even the members of “The Justice League” realize “You can’t save the world alone.”
These are individuals with power—the kind of power you only see in comic books. So for us mere mortals…if superheroes have to band together and form something called “The Justice League” to save the world, then we humans are going to have to band together too.
So when it comes to complaining, I urge you to do three things.
- Recognize that your complaints are really an expression of your vision for a better world.
- Realize that you can do something to create your vision.
- Seek to connect with other world-changers because you understand you can’t save the world alone.
Several years ago, I was as far from believing I could do anything to change the world as I could be. I was sitting across the table from a career counselor complaining about all the things I felt powerless to do anything about.
He looked at me and said…
“I know what you’re missing. You’re missing self-actualization.”
At the time, I didn’t know what “self-actualization” meant. Since then, I’ve come to see it as that feeling you get when you’re doing all you can to be your best and you see your efforts benefit others.
It’s the opposite of what Jimmy Stewart’s character, George Bailey felt in the 1946 movie, “It’s a Wonderful Life”. He almost ended it all because he felt his life wasn’t making any positive difference. Through a miraculous turn of events, he gets to see how the world would have been different without him, and realizes he was having a positive impact all along.
The truth of that story is we all make a difference in the world by virtue of being here. Self-actualization happens when we are aware and intentional about the difference we make.
I got my first taste of that feeling when I went with a team to Guatemala to build bottle schools. I was overwhelmed at the realization that I was shoulder-to-shoulder with world-changers. And that made me a world-changer too. This picture sums up how I felt:
It all started with people seeing a problem, deciding to do something about it, and sharing the vision with others.
And now I no longer see myself as just a helpless cog in a machine. I see myself more like a brontosaurus. I see possibilities from a higher perspective. I’m someone who shakes things up without permission. And like in “Jurassic Park” I travel in herds.
So, the next time you catch yourself complaining, don’t just settle for that “I know, right?” feeling. Remember you’re just a world-changer expressing your vision of a better future.
And to help you get in touch with your world-changing superpower, I have a FREE 3 day video challenge I put together for you. Just follow the link and enter your email address. I’ll send you a video each day for the next three days taking you through a step-by-step process to identify your unique superpower.