You know how some people say that alcoholics have to hit rock bottom before they become committed to change?
It’s possible to hit the rock-bottom of stress. When I was 24, the company I had been running for five years failed and my office landlord sued me and locked me out of the building, causing my office plants to die of dehydration. Before, I had been a neurotic, shouting, stomping, panic-attacked stresspuppy. However, at some point during the breakdown of my company, the stress-producing part of my brain became so overloaded that it broke. Like I blew a speaker. And now? I’m chill. More chill than I’d have ever thought I had the genetic capacity to be. And all without having to spend time being tortured in a third world prison (another way that people end up realizing that the little things don’t matter so much, although often at the expense of the normal functioning of important body parts).
After watching a long series of boyfriends end calls to customer service by telling a call center worker in Mumbai to fuck herself because she is a dumb bitch — or return home in a murderous rage following a sojourn to the cell phone store / a TSA screening / returning the cable box to the cable company — I thought maybe I could share some tips for mentally turning other people’s incompetence to your own advantage.
It’s Probably Not Making the Other Person Happy to Frustrate You. There are very few people in the world who can survive on an emotional diet of pure spite. Anyone making you miserable is probably even more miserable, either because he or she genuinely doesn’t have the ability to do the job any better (few low-level employees are actually empowered to solve problems in the most logical way), or because this person hates the job so much that he or she has decided to be an asshole about it. Just as a rising tide lifts all boats, a descent into assholery makes everyone less happy. That’s sad. Cock your head to the side and really look at this sad person acting like an asshole. Isn’t that sad? Treat the asshole as though you are sad for him or her. It really defuses things, and it’s much better to walk away from a work situation or customer service desk feeling sad for someone than feeling angry.
You Don’t Want That Job. I find that people who are incredibly incompetent and/or incredibly annoying are never, for instance, professional wine testers, or Lady Gaga. In other words, they don’t have jobs that I want. I recently agreed to take a short bus trip, despite a previous vow to never ride a bus again because, by god, I’m 30. However, this bus trip was brief and departed and arrived at exactly the times I wanted to leave and go somewhere. When I arrived to pick up my ticket, I was presented with a very long line that, as it turned out, was long in part because the woman at the desk had incredibly long fingernails and thus had to … t y p e … l i k e … t h i s…. It was exhausting to even watch. I clocked the name on her nametag (hi, Sarah!) and thought about sending an email to the bus company. And then I thought: dear god, I am so glad I do not work behind the counter at the Port Authority. This woman is going to sit in a bus station for 40 hours this week and come home with a few hundred dollars to show for it. Maybe staring at her own jewel-encrusted talons gets her through the week. A wave of calm passes over me every time I do this; the person pissing me off is living an existence that would also make me very angry, so I actually feel like that person’s anger and incompetence are a rational response to the situation and something we now have in common!
Frustration is a Form of Labor. If you are being frustrated in the course of obtaining a low-cost product or service, it helps to do a bit of math: by taking the bus rather than another mode of transportation, I was saving at least $50. If you do the math and discover that you’re enduring, say, half an hour of waiting or annoyance in exchange for the savings, then that’s $100 an hour, which isn’t bad at all. If you do the math and discover that you’re standing in a line or on hold and making less than minimum wage, consider your experience an exploratory mission for future time and cost savings, and also consider that even a low pay rate isn’t that bad for a gig that entails no responsibility and that you can’t fail at. I can be annoyed in exchange for money at any time of day, even when I’m really tired, which is not true of other forms of income generation.
It Is Possible to Experience Gratitude That Standards Are Low. In this video, comedian Erin Jackson tells of a cashier who claimed that she couldn’t make fifteen cents change because “We ain’t got no dimes.” When I encounter people who are utterly failing (possibly by choice) to live up to even the low standards of an open-admission sort of job, I feel a flush of gratitude that standards are so low that, if I ever fell on hard times, I would easily be able to exceed those standards. “As long as someone like this is employed,” I say, “I will always be okay.”