The complaint principle
An anecdote is told of a man named Jim who missed his chance to become wealthy during the gold rush days.
Surrounded by wealth and opportunity, he merely shuffled through life and never amounted to much.
His friend explained, “Jim has the gold fever, but he doesn’t have the digging principle.”
There’s a corollary to the digging principle.
Let me explain by telling you about someone I know who complains about his job almost every time I talk to him. He has to leave his family and drive two hours to work in a nearby city, where he stays through the week, and then comes home for the weekends.
He’s being doing that for years. The first time I met him he told me he wanted to find a way to earn a living in his own town so he could spend more time with his family.
He has yet to do anything about it. He has the discontentment, but he doesn’t have the willingness to change.
There’s a simple rule I use to keep my complaints in check and my desires legitimate: You have to earn the right to complain.
You earn the right to complain by actually doing something about your source of complaints.
If you’re not willing to change something that bothers you, you have no right to complain about it.
Don’t complain about your job if you’re not doing anything to change or improve it.
Don’t complain about the government infringing on your rights if you’re not actively doing something about it.
Because if you’re not willing to do something about what bothers you, it must not bother you all that much.
Complaining without a willingness to take action is a crippling form of dishonesty with yourself. If you were honest with yourself, you’d admit that you much prefer your current situation to whatever it is you say you want.
Your desires are evidenced not by your words but by your actions.
You say you hate your job. But how long have you been in it? What are you doing to get out of it? You don’t hate your job — and you haven’t earned the right to say you do.
And here’s the thing: When you earn the right to complain — by doing something about your situation — you find that you have no reason to complain. What’s there to complain about if you’re actively engaged in improving your situation?
There’s more to it than earning the right to complain. You also have to earn the right to dream.
A complaint without action is nothing but childish, selfish bellyaching. Likewise, a dream without action is merely wishful thinking.
In both cases your feet are stationary and your hand is extended; you want something for nothing.
The funny thing about my friend is that he’s a good, hard worker. He’s willing to work hard, but not willing to change.
Why would you work hard for someone else and not for yourself and your own family?
Often, the root of actionless complaining isn’t an unwillingness to take action, but rather a fear of change, a fear of stepping into the darkness of the unknown, a fear of risk.
There’s an easy way to get over the fear of change, which Robert Schuller expressed:
“Yard by yard, life is hard; but inch by inch, it’s a cinch.”
You don’t have to quit your job today to earn the right to complain. Just do something — anything — to take a step down the right path. Start reading a book per week in the field you want to get into. Take night classes. Find a mentor.
Speaking of mentors, my mentor, Oliver DeMille, once taught me a principle that has always stuck with me:
“People way overestimate what they can accomplish in a year, but way underestimate what they can accomplish in a decade.”
Scrap your New Year’s Resolutions and replace them with a vision of your ideal self. What does it feel like? How do you spend your time? What do you do for a living? How do you serve others?
Now, what inch step do you need to take today that gets you closer to that vision?
Small, consistent actions both eliminate your reason to complain and your fear of change.
I leave you with a declaration from E. Merrill Root in his phenomenal book, America’s Steadfast Dream:
“To be a man means that we live by the affirmation: ‘I am — therefore I think, therefore I will. No matter what my surroundings, my environment, my social conditioning, I am large, I contain multitudes, I am potent. Like even an acorn fallen into a meager cup of earth on a boulder’s top, I have life and destiny within me: I affirm my introstance against all circumstances. I grow; I thrust my roots down into the earth and my crown up toward the sun; I split the rock. I am a man — for I live, I grow, I will, I am!”