And how I became a better human because of it.
Late last year, I had snow tires put on my car. (Trust me, this is going somewhere.)
The tire shop gave me “new” wheels they had lying around for free, which made me feel happy.
About an hour after I picked up my car and drove it home, the tire shop called to let me know they needed their wheels back.
Turns out they belonged to someone else who was waiting to get them put onto his car.
So I drove back to the tire shop, bought new wheels, and got everything sorted out.
When I told my friends about it, they asked: “Man, how pissed off are you?”
My response: Not very.
I rarely get upset when someone cuts me off in traffic.
And I don’t sigh loudly, roll my eyes, or shift my feet when the person ahead of me in line pays for their groceries with dollars and change.
The cashier always apologizes when they ring me up.
“I’m so sorry,” they say. “That took forever.”
I tell them it’s not a problem.
It’s taken some time, but I rarely get impatient with people anymore. And I almost never let situations frustrate me. Instead I take some deep breaths and put everything into perspective.
In the grand scheme of my life, I tell myself, this one little annoyance isn’t that big of a deal. It’s not a problem.
So I smile and laugh it off.
I didn’t use to be this way.
The simplest thing would upset me.
I’d unload the dishwasher, drop a glass, and break it. Then I’d immediately slam the cabinet door, which usually resulted in other glasses breaking.
Relationship “problems”, work frustrations, small accidents…they’d all set me off.
I put my hand through a lot of walls as a teenager. My parents have the plaster to prove it.
I wasn’t an angry child, really. Just easily overwhelmed.
But when I was 18, something happened:
I started taking my dog for a walk every day.
What my dog taught me about patience and real problems.
Titus, a chow-shepard-something mix, had been my family’s dog for more than 14 years, ever since my dad went out to get groceries and instead returned with a puppy.
He had black fur, a black tongue, and a black nose that likes to sniff everything. And I mean everything.
Rocks, grass, mailboxes, fence poles, other dogs, water puddles, snow…he’d bury his nose in things I never imagined even had a smell.
Every time I set out to walk Titus I told myself it’d be for five minutes. A quick walk.
But it always turned into half an hour.
At first it annoyed me. I’d say, “Titus, let’s go!” for the millionth time and give a tug on his leash.
He would ignore me and my cheeks would get red and my fingers would clench as I felt my frustration rise.
And at that moment, when I was feeling all these negative emotions and wasn’t sure what to do with them, I’d catch myself.
“Am I really getting upset at my dog?”
I’d take a couple deep breaths to calm down. I’d take in the world around me and enjoy the trees and the sunshine. I’d watch Titus excitedly sniff a rock for what seemed like 10 minutes but was probably only 3 seconds.
And I’d smile.
This wasn’t a real problem. This wasn’t anything to get upset about.
This, in fact, was a chance to relax in nature, get away from my computer and phone, get a little exercise, and do something nice for my dog who was stuck indoors most days.
Taking my dog for a walk and having him stop every three seconds was at worst a minor annoyance, and at best an opportunity for me to disconnect and learn how to deal with my frustration.
I thought, if I can put up with little things like taking my dog for long walks or standing in line at the grocery store — things that don’t truly affect the quality of my life — then when something really shitty happens, I’ll be able to appreciate it, not get pissed off, and deal with it in a clear-headed way.
And that’s the attitude I’ve been carrying since.
So if you’re a well-meaning cashier, airline attendant, bank teller, tire salesman, or any sort of customer service person, don’t worry.
I won’t get pissed off if I have to wait in line. I won’t yell or make passive-aggressive remarks.
If you’re truly doing your best to help me — and shit, even if you aren’t — know that this thing, this interaction you and I are having that everyone else may perceive as bad…it’s really not a problem.
And you can thank Titus — my old, gray, long-bearded dog with the black nose — for helping me understand that.