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  • Janet Thompson Jackson

Choose Your Handle

It was a Monday morning. When I tried to log into my work email I couldn’t access it. The system had been updated over the weekend and logging in should have been a simple process. But it wasn’t working. At first it felt like an inconvenience. Then, a quiet panic started to rise after my 10th try at logging in.

I thought about all the emails that arrived over the weekend that I had not yet seen. I thought about the reminder I needed to send about my weekly Monday Meditation with my law school community. I worried about missing some important message that needed a quick response. To complicate matters, I had to leave for a routine medical appointment, so my schedule was tight.


Paraphrasing Epictetus, author Ryan Holiday writes that every situation has two handles and that we decide which one we will grab. Another way of putting it is that, even though there are many things in life we cannot control, we can control how we perceive and respond to events in our lives. Even when we find ourselves in situations that are objectively challenging and beyond our power to control, we still have agency over our thoughts, our focus, and our actions.


As I rushed to leave home for my appointment, I needed to make a choice. Would I hold on to the frustration and angst I was feeling or I would I grab another handle? In retrospect, what seems like an easy choice over a relatively minor issue can be challenging in the moment. Sometimes it feels easier -- and justifiable -- to cling to frustration, anger, and self-pity. And it is important to acknowledge those feelings instead of stuffing them down. But staying in that mindset for too long never leads to a good place. Plus, I believe that starting the week on a positive note sets the tone for the rest of the week.


So, I contacted my school’s IT team and my assistant to alert them about my email access problems. As I left home, knowing that I would not be able to deal with the situation again until after my appointment, I decided to grab the gratitude handle. Gratitude for my school’s amazing IT team, who responded quickly and later helped me to resolve the issue. Gratitude for my assistant, who sent out my meditation email reminder. Gratitude for the unexpected time to give my attention to other tasks without the distraction of email.


What should have been a quick one-hour appointment ran very late because of the doctor’s schedule. There was no way I would make it home in time to lead my meditation. I could have called my assistant in frustration and asked her to send a cancelation email. Instead, I asked the medical staff if there was an empty room I could use for a short time. A few minutes later, I led Monday Meditation from an empty exam room, with my phone in one hand and my gratitude handle in the other.


What handle will you choose today?


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