Friday, November 6, 2009

The 87th Problem

Eight or so years ago, I found myself in quite a situation. My darling Hubster had been offered not one but two jobs. The first offer came with a salary high enough to let me quit my day job right then and there, plus it came with benefits galore. It was in a line of work that Hubster was good at, though not in his first choice of specialty. It would also require us to pull up stakes and move. The company would help us find a new house, sell our old one, and offer a moving bonus to boot. The second job did not offer nearly as much money, though it offered more than Hubster was currenly making, and the benefits were okay. It wouldn't require us to move, and it was Hubster's dream job.

I think you know where this is headed.

At the time Hubster had these two job offers, I was wallowing in abject misery. I worked for the Man, putting in 80 hours a week and getting paid for only 40. I was under constant threat of being fired or replaced, in spite of the fact that I was very good at my job and worked so many unpaid extra hours. I absolutely loathed some of the people I worked with, especially the ones who had say over whether or not I kept my job, and they seemed to loathe me right back. It was a pretty abysmal situation to be in. I was so stressed over work that I had started seeing a therapist because seriously, it was either pay someone to listen to me rant and rave about my job or else end up on the evening news when the cops started finding dead bodies in my backyard.

Hubster knew all of this, and he knew I relished the idea of pulling up stakes and moving to another state. In addition to my work stress, I was also embroiled in a protracted disagreement with some friends, one of those high drama painful things where everyone is fighting over something so stupid it's ridiculous. And it was ridiculous, although at the time that argument seemed like a matter of life and death to everyone involved. I was desperate to get out of my current situation. I wanted to quit my job, leave my friends, and move to someplace where I could start all over. If Hubster took job #1, I knew that would happen. At least back then I believed that's what would have happened. Now, I'm not so sure.

Obviously, Hubster did not take job #1. After two weeks of deliberating and considering, he came home one night and said, "I know you want things to be otherwise, but I'm taking job #2. It doesn't pay as well, and I know it means you'll be stuck in a job situation you hate, but this is what I went to college for. This is the job I've always dreamed of having. If I don't take this job now, I may never get another chance." And I nodded my head, and said "I'm glad you've made your choice. I know it wasn't easy, but I love you and don't worry." Then I went upstairs and cried.

And after that... I got on with my life.

In both the long and short run, Hubster made the right choice. The firm that offered the higher paying job started laying people off a year later. Friends of the Hubster who had taken similar job offers suddenly found themselves out of work and worried that they might not be able to make their next house payment. Meanwhile, my job situation did not improve, but Hubster and I came to an agreement about when I could leave my job. I would put in one more year at the hell-hole I called work, giving him time to save up money and take over all the bills, and then I would be free to do whatever I wanted. Until then, I found ways to alleviate the misery I labored under. I threw myself into my hobbies, devoured books, took some nice vacations with the Hubster, and just stopped caring about the argument with my friends (because it really didn't matter). Oh, and I joined a Zen meditation group, where I slowly learned how to just let things be and accept the present moment for what it is.

There's a story about a farmer who visited the Buddha. The man was probably as miserable as I was during that time of my life, and he wanted to know how to solve all the problems he struggled with. He sat down with the Buddha and listed everything that made him miserable. He came up with 86 problems, total. The Buddha listened, nodded, and said, "I'm sorry, but I cannot help you with any of those 86 problems."

"What?" the farmer cried. "What kind of wise man are you?"

"I am the wise man who can help you with the 87th problem," the Buddha said.

"The 87th problem? What problem is that?" the farmer demanded.

"The problem of not wanting to have any problems," the Buddha said.

And there it is, the most basic truth I know and the lesson I carry from that difficult period in my life. We all have problems. We all have our periods of abject misery where we look around and desperately wish we could flee from our current situation. And maybe we do flee and succeed in getting away from those problems, but it doesn't matter because even if we manage to leave behind one set of problems, there are always others waiting for us ahead. The best way to deal with all 86 problems is to accept that they are there; to live in the present moment and say, "Yes, this is how it is," then get on with life. Eventually, things will change. The situation will pass. I know it did for me.



  1. Helen,

    I've had the week from hell. Your blog today was insightful and helpful.

    Thanks for sharing your wisdom.


  2. Hello, Helen,

    As usual, a lively and enlightening post!

    I've found that decisions rarely turn out the way you expect. The effects ripple through your life, making changes here and there in areas that you thought were entirely independent of the choice.

    You're very fortunate to have a husband who cares about your needs and who wants to work with you to make your heart's desire come true.

    Thanks for sharing your insights.


  3. That points out the futility of the 87th.

  4. Ashley,

    I'm very flattered you found something helpful in this. I admit, a lot of this attitude came from the couple of years I spent with that Zen group. It was a good experience. I learned a lot about patience by spending a couple hours every week sitting and staring at a blank wall!

    I hope your week gets better and next week goes as smooth as ice. Take care of yourself, okay!

  5. Lisabet,

    Decisions never really do turn out the way you expect them to. I have found the most offhand events sometimes have the greatest impact on my life. Meanwhile, things I sweat and swear over and am certain will make or break me come down to absolutely nothing in the end. I've tried very hard since those days when I was so miserable to not get caught up in that stressful attitude again. I want to take whatever comes along and just deal with it as it happens.

    Have a wonderful weekend!

  6. Secretia,

    Oh yes, the 87th problem is futile. Trying to never have problems will always fail. It's just best to let go and see how things turn out. I've been learning that lesson all over again lately as I watch my kids go through school. I can't do their work for them or make them get good grades. I can only offer guidance and enforce discipline when they don't do what they need to do in school. That's not been a fun position to be in, but I'm starting to let go of the frustration in it, and have told both girls it's up to them how they do in school. I'm not going to yell about it anymore, just enforce the rules and take away privileges if they don't do their work. That attitude has already taken a load of stress off my shoulders.

    Have a great weekend!

  7. Hi Helen!

    I always admireteh relationship you and your husband have. I think its unique. I know your husband appreciates your sacrifices too. Life is short. Can't sweat the small stuff. Very good post.


  8. Thank you Garce ;) I consider myself very lucky to be married to the Hubster. He's extremely patient and has been very supportive in all my endeavors, no matter how crazy they seem.

    Have a wonderful weekend!