I recently had a revelation about how much of my personal life I spend looking for what’s wrong. Nothing is ever “perfect,” whatever perfect means to you (this is how Pluck columnist Liz Joynt Sandberg defined the nuances of perfection), and there’s inevitably going to be something “wrong,” whatever wrong means to you, with everything.
Looking for what’s “wrong” means overlooking the 99 people at your 100-person party who had a good time and honing in on the one person who complained about the cookies. It’s meeting the partner you’ve always wanted and hunting down their faults instead of taking the time to enjoy who they are. It’s constantly tracking what you don’t have and what you haven’t done instead of what you do possess and what you have accomplished.
I initially blamed my family (sorry, y’all) for this tendency, remembering clearly the quarter in college I brought home 4 As and a C and hearing almost exclusively about, you guessed it, the C*. And while I think family history has something to do with it, that’s not quite it.
It wasn’t until I was reading the news this weekend that I found another culprit: journalism.
Violence, political shenanigans, injustice, pain, suffering, mayhem, mayhem, mayhem. Oh, and a piece about what the Kardashians are doing. (Or does that count as mayhem?) I’m not only a consumer of this litany of misery, I was trained to record it. As a mainstream media reporter and editor, it was my job to look for what’s wrong: how many people have been shot, what politician has been indicted, is one of the Kardashians coming to town? As an editor, I was the last line of defense against errors making it into print, and I scoured stories for What Was Wrong. Yeah, this is a great story, but what’s wrong with it?
Even stories I wrote with a positive slant required an opposing voice of some kind, a nod to the fact that there are detractors everywhere. But it also felt as if strictly positive stories were rare, and I spent the majority of my time covering criminal trials, talking to victims and their families or writing about a you-name-it list of natural disasters: floods, drought, heat waves, cold snaps, blizzards and a lack of snow.
It isn’t as if I didn’t enjoy my job, I loved it. Until I didn’t. And nearly a year removed from it, I can look back clearly and see the impact that my professional reporting prowess had on my personal life. As a reporter, I didn’t describe my job as minimizing the positive and chronicling the negative, but I can see that description as being not all that far off. Not that I’m Debbie Downer all the time, but I’ve definitely struggled with turning off my laser focus on searching for the headline in every situation, and headlines are rarely good news these days.
Revelations are liberating, of course, and now that I’m aware of what’s wrong with looking for what’s wrong, so to speak, I’ve been spending more time realizing what’s right.
Turning off the negative headline-grabbing voice in my head has been hard but oh-so-worth it, and I now recognize how “wrong” that voice was most of the time. Besides, the cookies at that party were freakin’ fantastic.
In cookie crunchin’ Rebellion,
*P.S. — The C was in statistics. The second time I took it.