This is the 11th in a series of posts in which I share thoughts on a book that has inspired me over the years.
Ric Elias was a passenger on the airplane that Captain “Sully” Sullenberger landed on the Hudson River. In a TED Talk he shared three lessons he learned from knowing that within seconds of hearing the words “brace for impact” he might be dead. One of the three was that “I decided to eliminate negative energy from my life.”
If anyone ever had a legitimate reason to complain it was Randy Pausch, author of The Last Lecture, a book that has inspired me and millions of others. Pausch had a job he loved as a university professor, a wife he adored, and three beautiful little children. He had everything to live for when he was given a diagnosis of pancreatic cancer and given just six months to live.
That diagnosis had made him suddenly and acutely aware that “we all have finite time and energy” and that he had to choose whether to spend what little time he had left complaining about the raw deal life was giving him, or working constructively toward the goals he wished to achieve during that remaining time.
As he was dying, Randy Pausch thought about lessons for living. Lessons he would have wanted to teach his children, who were so young they might have only the vaguest memories of their Dad. And he put those lessons into his last lesson as a professor, and into the book that has become a part of his legacy.
At least in a metaphorical sense, many of us feel like we need to brace for impact. The pandemic has been like a comet streaking across the sky pulling a long tail in its wake. A long tail of personal grief and loneliness, emotional trauma and moral injury, financial and career dislocation, anger and anxiety. All legitimate excuses to complain.
But even though the problems are real – often very real – complaining does not work as a strategy. Quite to the contrary, complaining and its close cousin commiserating (co-miserate = be miserable together) can be the first steps in circling an emotional drain of learned helplessness, self-pity, and a self-imposed sense of victimhood.
In Life’s Little Instruction Book H. Jackson Brown wrote, “Your mind can only hold one thought at the time. Make it a positive and constructive one.” That is the philosophy behind The Pickle Pledge:
I will turn every complaint into either a blessing or a constructive suggestion.
You can feel resentment or gratitude, but not both at once. You can feel helpless or empowered, but not both at once. You can feel self-pity or compassion for others, but not both at once. With The Pickle Pledge, you are choosing to be positive.
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