Weeknote: When you can’t solve the problem

I wrote this reflection a while ago, but as this week has been intense and my thoughts are all over the place, I thought I’d share this.

It’s a drab drizzly day in January. I’m queuing at the post office. Courtesy of covid-19, we’re of course queuing outside. There’s also a queue system inside: There are 4 queues, one for the bank, one for the post office, one for the ATM, one of the post office self-service tills. The queues with people (post office and bank) are very slow. The two with machines have no-one. Yet, the member of staff guarding the door insists on us queuing in one queue outside. 

I need the self-service tills, several people in the queue simply want to go to the ATM. We’re fuming. There’s no reason for us to queue in the cold. Some give up, whispering insults under the breath. My heart is racing, I’m pissed off. This is my lunch break, I’m wasting my time. 

Then I remembered a thing my high-school French lit teacher said:

‘There’s 2 types of people in life. There’s the person walking home in a snowstorm at night, gripping tight onto their collar, swearing and cursing, eager to get home. Then there’s the other person, who’s going through the same snowstorm yet whistling their favourite song.’

I often think about that, even if I feel Monsieur Tenret probably forgot he said this in one of his many tangents. Too often, I am the first person he described. Frustrated with the world around me when things don’t go my way.

It’s especially bad since I’ve been working as a product manager, because I made it my career to make things easier and better for users. And I know how they could fix this bug or that workflow on a website. It got so bad, my husband sat me down one day and asked me to stop complaining when a website or app was terrible. 

Similarly, since working at the UK Government Digital Service, I have much higher expectations for public services, and a much lower tolerance for absurd bureaucracy, because I know they can do better.

But here I was at the post office, suffering another pain sprung out of someone’s process they had devised. But I thought about M Tenret’s point, and I needed to let go. Yes it sucked, and yes they could do better. But right now they didn’t, and I could just stand here, breathe, maybe listen to some music,or a podcast, and have a good time. Then I really won’t be wasting my lunch break.


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