Since I live it and write about it, I spend a lot of my time thinking about the work-family dilemma. I started down the road of writing about my own work-family balancing challenges in 2014 when I wrote an essay and submitted it to The New York Times. After it was published, I enjoyed the fame of being a NYT essayist… until I started reading the comments section. Quite a few readers didn’t appreciate my serious take on my serious dilemma. Ok, ok, they slammed me for being an arrogant, self-important, egotistical, over-educated, middle class woman with oodles of options who was whining about what she couldn’t have when she had so much more than most people do.
It was hard not to feel defensive in reading those comments. And it was hard not to admit there was some truth in their reading.
We all have daily woes. As a psychologist in private practice, and as a friend, parent, wife, daughter, and sister, I often hear out and sympathize with woes that exist in our democratic, first world society. And I certainly have my own woes. These days they come in the form of longing for more than a few hours of sleep at a time and wishing I had the ability to get my frizzy and greying hair cut and colored (I can’t figure out how to do it with a newborn, 3- and 6-year old always around!). I stress about going to the market to get diapers with three kids in tow, and I feel like I can’t find anything in my house (where the hell did the remote disappear to?). And how will I be able to make my professional mark when I can barely make it to the supermarket or find the damn remote?
But amid my daily woes, I know there is a world outside of my head and outside of my home. Lately, that world does not seem to be faring well. There are dizzying fears following this recent election, worries about climate change, racism, gun laws, health and mental health access, and world tragedies on an unfathomable scale. Last night, while nursing, I skimmed my Facebook feed and came across a video of a professor in Aleppo, Syria asking for the world to help a city under siege and the countless civilians being slaughtered, asking for the world to remember, and saying goodbye. My eyes filled with tears of sadness for the atrocities that human beings are capable of, and tears of shame for having spent the previous five minutes looking at 2017 stylish cuts for frizzy hair.
It’s hard not to feel heartbroken about the tragic events that are happening all around, and it’s hard not to feel ashamed for getting caught up in the daily woes of a privileged American life. And yet, because we all live lives in our own heads, it is impossible not to get caught up in our own woes. But rather than shaming ourselves for having our own dilemmas (or–to all you NYT commentators–shaming others for having them), we can use the perspective of the larger world to contextualize them. Keeping our unique challenges in perspective can be helpful in reminding us of our blessings. Indeed, if you are safe today, if you have food on your table, if you have your health and loved ones nearby, then you are very blessed. And you are still likely find yourself stressed out about hair, market trips, lost remotes, and whatever else occupies your worry-mind. That’s simply a part of being human and living out whatever life you’ve landed in.
At the very same time, we can use the reminders of the bigger dilemmas and tragedies to activate ourselves and make a difference in the larger world around us. I see that happening in the wake of the recent election–so many friends and colleagues are taking action in their communities to facilitate positive change in the world. I have been inspired by friends’ raising money for various organizations that elevate civil liberties, working to start homeless shelters, taking part in community organizations to prevent gun violence, and spreading the word about atrocities in Aleppo.
So, if you find yourself getting caught up in personal woes in a world full of big tragedies, you don’t need to be hard on yourself. But, you can also take a moment and remember your blessings. You can take action in your own life, and you can take action to make a positive change in the bigger world,
*If you’ve seen any footage, or read any of the descriptions about what is happening in Aleppo and you’ve been activated to do something about this tragedy, here are some things you can do: 7 Real Things You Can Do.