Are you generally happy when you see others experience success? Or do you find yourself indulging in a round of self-pity, wondering why others achieve progress and reach their goals and you don’t?
Personally, I’ve been on both sides of the fence over the years. Though it is hard to admit, I spent much of my youth mired in pride which bordered on arrogance at times. I felt, unjustifiably, that hard work entitled me to success and getting what I wanted. Only in adulthood did I learn to practice humility and acceptance when things don’t go my way.
A funny thing happens when you learn to embrace humility; you realize that the universe does not revolve around you, that other people have intrinsic value, and sometimes things just don’t go your way. This lesson is not easy to learn, nor is it fun, but it is incredibly important.
When things don’t go your way, you have two choices. Accept the outcome, learn from it, and continue to persevere in the face of failure, or drown your sorrows in self-pity.
In my opinion, self-pity is always the wrong choice because it is the enemy of progress.
Please don’t misread my stance as insensitive. Rising above difficult circumstances is very challenging, especially emotionally. It almost always requires specific action. And as Einstein so eloquently stated, insanity is “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”
You Choose Your Response
Last week, the story of how my wife and I paid off $18,000 of student loan debt in 54 days was featured on CNBC and Yahoo Finance. We received many kind messages from friends, family, co-workers, and bloggers who happened to see the article. I’m not one to enjoy being in the spotlight – in fact, it embarrasses me to a degree – but I was glad that our story was being shared with people who may be feeling stuck in debt. “It might help them,” I thought.
Friday evening, I made the mistake of reading the comments on one of the articles, and while I won’t give any of them space in this piece, suffice it to say that many of them were intensely negative.
This didn’t come as a surprise to me, as internet trolls are often the most egregious practitioners of self-pity. But it did lead me to think about how many of the people who whined and complained that their circumstances would never allow them to escape debt were casting self-fulfilling prophesies.
In comment after comment, I noticed that a majority of their authors seemingly felt victimized by their circumstances. And while many of them truly found themselves in tough financial situations, it appeared that few of them had actively accepted responsibility and ownership of the situation and formulated a game plan to do something.
Contrary to the prevailing theme of these comments, the truth is your circumstances have very little to do with whether or not you accomplish your goals – financial or otherwise. People who achieve their dreams take the energy that they could easily put into self-pity and instead channel it into action. They accept responsibility for enacting change, even when it is hard.
The moment you allow yourself to start the self-pity train in motion and allow yourself to believe that you are a victim, you’ve lost, in my experience. Bad things – job loss, massive debt, debilitating illness, and catastrophic loss – happen to people all the time.
Self-pity assumes, wrongly so, that you are somehow more special than others and should not have to experience hardship. This is demonstrably wrong.
Though you have little choice in whether they happen to you, you absolutely must believe that you DO have a choice in how you respond when adversity strikes!
How to Channel Self-Pity Into Action
For the sake of your health and happiness, it is crucial that you learn to accept that things won’t always go your way and. To take it one step further, you should be happy for others when they succeed.
Jealousy disguised as self-pity will get you nowhere. As William Penn said, “The jealous are troublesome to others but a torment to themselves.” Translation: allowing yourself to be jealous is like shooting yourself in the foot.
The truth is that one of the best ways to achieve success yourself is by emulating others who have accomplished what you want to achieve yourself. When I learned CNBC would be sharing our story, I had high hopes that many people would read it and copy our method to crush their student loan debt in a hurry.
Instead, many decided that our story was a lie, that it couldn’t be done, that my wife and I (two teachers) must have inherited money, that we must earn over $200,000 per year, and so on. Again, I’m not surprised or hurt by these comments. I stopped caring what strangers think of me long ago.
But I have to admit I am sad that so many of the commenters missed the point of our story entirely:
No matter what you circumstances may be, you and only you are responsible for taking action to change them and refusing to allow them to hold you back.
Want to lose weight but find that you keep eating junk food instead? Throw it out and don’t buy more.
Stuck in debt but find yourself living paycheck to paycheck? Do whatever it takes to earn more money and cut all unnecessary expenses.
Feel that you are underpaid in your current job? Prove that you deserve a raise or seek a new job and a higher salary.
Whining about your student loan debt while you drive around in a brand new car with a $500 per month payment? Stop it. And sell the car.
If you’re not where you want to be, the lesson is simple: stop the bitterness and self-pity and get to work on changing your circumstances. Nobody else is going to do it for you.
Stop believing that you are a victim of your circumstances. Refuse to believe that you must continue to be stuck and unhappy. When you see others succeed, follow their path and channel motivation from their story.
And when you find yourself in difficult circumstances, don’t continue feeling bad for yourself for too long.
Remember: self-pity and progress cannot co-exist.
You CAN do it. I am rooting for you!
Readers: Is there an appropriate time for self-pity? Is my position too harsh?