The Good in Feeling Bad

Not all negative emotions are bad for you. Plus, greeting obstacles with joy, pain but not suffering, nastiness and what matters to us.

Relationship Rule #1: Do the Best You Can Do

Once again the wisdom of knowing what you can't control

Emily needed to call in sick for work, but she was nervous about doing so. Her supervisor had asked her the day before if she could fill in for someone else the next day, said yes, but then woke up with a fever. She felt lousy, hardly able to get out of bed. Her nervousness came from her worry that her supervisor would be upset—she was new at the job, didn’t know her supervisor well, and feared that her supervisor would be angry. 

She clearly was. On the phone she was curt and said fine, but Emily could tell that all was not well. In her mind her fears were confirmed.

Emily was being responsible—perhaps she could have dragged herself to work, slugged through, done a lousy job given how she was feeling, aggravated her boss by her work performance, and spread her illness around to other staff. On the other side, she can see how her supervisor may be understandably annoyed by her cancellation—she was already scrambling for a fill-in when she called to ask if Emily could come in, and now Emily, seemingly, bagging out at the last minute just made an annoying problem, that she thought she had put to rest, back on the front burner; she is scrambling once again, now at the last minute. 

What’s the best Emily can do? She can’t control her supervisor’s reaction. She can follow up—write an email, leave a voice message—saying that she was sorry to have to cancel at the last minute, that she realized that that put the supervisor in a bind, that she felt she couldn’t do a good job or would only spread the illness to others, and leave it at that. Again, how her supervisor reacts to that, she can’t control. 

The point here is that in most relationship problems there is always room for fear, for self-criticism, for worrying that you did something wrong because the other person didn’t respond the way you hoped. You can’t ever control the other person, what you can only do is do the best you can do—be responsible, be adult, be sensitive to how the other person may be feeling (put yourself in their shoes) and leave it at that. You’re done. What happens next is outside your control.

There is the Buddhist idea that if you do what you do with no expectations, you will not suffer, that you will be happy. Do the best you can do, have no expectations, and pat yourself on the back.


The Good in Feeling Bad