Knowing Why I’m Doing Something Leads to Less Complaining

Line of white dominoes on a curve, knocked over.
I find it a lot easier to do things when I know why they matter, and then I don't complain about them (nearly as much).

Everything takes lots of steps

I find it interesting that the work I do now, a combination of coaching and teaching on Outschool, all online, involves an unending multiplicity of small and large tasks, and yet they don’t irritate me the way tasks at other jobs used to.

For example, I recently started making YouTube videos that I hope will spread autism-positive messages and offer some practical reframing. In the process, I’ve noticed that making a single video includes a surprising number of tiny steps. For example, setting up the film equipment, deciding what to say, filming the video, editing, even just a little bit, uploading it to YouTube, making a cover picture, writing the description, etc., and a bunch more if I hope anyone will ever watch it.

Despite the long list of things to do, I don’t get upset or annoyed by all these little things (mostly).

Sure, there are moments, but in general I’m actually pretty okay with them. This surprises me in some ways, because I used to complain at length to anyone who would listen about all of the crap that I had to do in previous jobs.

Some very good reasons

For the last few years, I’ve mostly chalked that up to the fact that I’m working for myself, in an office that I’ve set up at home to be a sensory refuge, and I’m not subject to a bureaucratic employer anymore.

Those are major improvements, and I cannot possibly overstate how big of a deal it is that my sensory system is happy 90% of the time, rather than struggling to cope 90% of the time. How much working for myself is preferable to working for someone else, even when I liked the job or the employer, because I get to choose what I’m working on, and when, and how, and therefore not overtaxing my system. And that even when there are tasks involved that I don’t care for, at least I chose the project and am invested in the outcome. 

I cannot possibly overstate how big of a deal it is that my sensory system is happy 90% of the time, rather than struggling to cope 90% of the time.

Those are all significant reasons why my complaining has gone down, and here’s another one that I hadn’t considered until today. 

When a task doesn’t have a reason

Each of those tiny steps that I do, on a daily and weekly basis, are things that I actually see a purpose to.

There’s a reason for them that is clear and I can see the results of doing or not doing a particular task.

When I taught in the public school system, just to give a contrasting example, there were a lot of things that I was required to do that had no clear purpose and for which I never saw any outcome when I did them. 

When I asked about the reason for a lot of things, the answer I often got was that it was required to prove we had done it, or the meetings were to prove that we were making an effort, despite there being no tangible outcome, to protect the school in case of a lawsuit. In other cases it was because some administrator had the brilliant idea that all teachers would benefit from X or Y, and therefore we had to do X or Y all year long, or that we should take on extra projects to show community involvement, or potlucks outside of school hours to build team spirit, or whatever.

There were a lot of things that I simply didn’t see the point in, and even when pressed, other people often could not give me a decent reason as to why they were worthwhile. A lot of it was paperwork for the sake of record keeping.

There were also a number of rules that I could imagine came out of a situation in which having had that rule would have spared someone some grief. However, a unique case was generalized so that everyone thereafter had to follow this new protocol to avoid that wildly improbable thing from ever happening again, rather than allowing the flexibility of using common sense on a case by case basis. This partially springs from the belief that standardizing the rules for everyone is more fair. (It isn’t, but that’s a different topic.)

A lot of those nonsensical tasks took time away from doing something that I did see a clear reason for; namely, teaching. The part of my job that earned its title.

And frankly, is it at all unreasonable to complain about being made to waste so much effort on entirely pointless activity?

My new reason

Thanks to Outschool, I’ve been teaching again, and yes, I am again contacting parents, scheduling classes, planning lessons, and doing all of the many little things that are involved in teaching people you care about.

Yet all of the things I do now, all of those many little tasks, are things that I see have an actual effect and therefore I don’t mind doing them. (Especially in a place that does not overwhelm my senses and at times that I have the energy and ability to do them.)

Yet all of the things I do now are things that I see have an actual effect and therefore I don’t mind doing them. 

At the high school where I used to teach, a student once came up to me out of the blue and said thank you, “because you always tell us why when you tell us to do something.” Several other students nodded their agreement. It surprised me that this was unusual enough to thank someone for. To me, it just made sense. Because that’s what I like. I like to know why I’m doing something and to know that there will be a real world outcome. I guess I’m not alone in that.

Now when I’m faced with a task that doesn’t have a clear purpose, I simply don’t do it. And so far nothing has exploded, no one has died, no one has even gotten mad at me, and in fact, there have really been no repercussions at all. So clearly, those things did not need to be done.

It has taken me a long time to get to the point where I can give myself permission not to do things that a part of me thinks that I have to do (but it’s so much nicer inside my head now). I’m also probably easier to live with now that I’m not complaining very much.

How about you? Are you happier when you understand the purpose and see a clear result from what you’re doing? Leave a comment below to share your thoughts.

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One Response

  1. I also like to know why I m doing something. If I know the reason I’m much less stressed.
    Wonderful article. Thanks for all your little tasks.

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Picture of Heather Cook

Heather Cook

Hi, I’m Heather. I’m an Autistic writer, advocate, and life coach, and I'm building a life I love. I help other Autistics to build their own autism-positive life. I love reading, jigsaw puzzles, just about every -ology, and Star Trek!

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