Remember that time I was mad at every single person and object on the entire planet for no reason at all? I figured out what my problem was.
I had way too many monkeys.
Not, like, actual monkeys. I should back up.
Last week I asked my boss, Ike, if it was alright for me to stop going to a meeting that always leaves me with a feeling similar to the kind one might experience after repeatedly slamming one’s head into a brick wall.
He looked at me and said, “If you feel like your opinions aren’t being valued and there’s a better use of your time, you don’t need to be there. I’m calling it professional disengagement. God knows we all have enough to do. They’re not your monkeys.”
“Pardon?” I said. I’ve complained about a lot of things in my life, but if I remember correctly, monkeys have only come up once or twice, ever.
“Am I the only one whose Facebook feed was full of that Polish idiom for a while? ‘Not my circus, not my monkeys.’ It means it’s not my problem. Why does everyone look at me weird when I say that?” Ike said, before professionally disengaging from our conversation and my office.
You know when one of your ears suddenly starts ringing, and everything sounds weird and new, and you make this face the whole time you’re waiting for things to go back to normal?
That’s what an epiphany feels like, only with less tinnitus. I’d never had one before. I sat there, making that face and realizing that I’d spent the last months — no, years — of my life caring way too much about a bunch of monkeys that didn’t even belong in my circus.
A Sampling of the Things I Really Really Really Cared About
1. Being friends with everyone, even people I didn’t actually want to be friends with.
2. Trying to provide help to someone who absolutely would not accept help.
3. Getting approximately 10 million work assignments done quickly and perfectly without batting an eye.
4. Protecting the eggshell feelings of someone who continuously imagines slights and drama.
5. Maintaining relationships with friends or family members who have never been interested in reciprocating.
6. Being taken seriously despite my baby face.
Those are just a few of the highlights. I’d go to bed late after working on and worrying over these things, and when I woke up in the morning and saw the sun, I’d think, “Oh [redacted]. You again.” I don’t mean to be dramatic, but trying to care as deeply as I did about every single thing was slowly grinding my soul into a fine gray powder. There’s a reason circuses aren’t made up entirely of monkeys.
As soon as Ike told me about professional detachment, I could see all the dumb stuff I was wasting my life on. I can’t help the person who doesn’t want help. I can’t fix an imaginary wrong I did someone that exists only in his head. There’s no point in worrying about those things. This world is full of better stuff to care about.
Things I Can Really Really Really Care About Instead
1. Personal goals I’ve been putting on the back burner!
2. Doing the best job I can, no matter how old people think I am!
3. Building relationships with friends and family who like me back!
4. Tuxedo cats!
5. Candy delivery services!
I surprised myself by going to the meeting that started it all anyway. Uninformed statements were made. Offers of help were refused. Constructive input was rejected offhand. Pre-Monkey Stephanie would have Hulked out. Post-Monkey Stephanie sat through the whole meeting smiling and quietly working on more useful things. I was even a little sad when it was over.
I’ve never been so free in my life. I felt like one of those women in tampon ads who are always wearing white pants and twirling around with their arms in the air. I even tried a twirl of my own on the way back to my office when I thought no one was looking. It turns out someone is always looking and also always ready to make fun of you. But you know what?
I don’t care.