It's been more than 15 years since it happened, but a single, short conversation with my father still sticks with me and provides reflection moments on a regular basis.
I had had a bad day at work – my manager was being completely unsupportive and was pinning blame for her failures on me to her boss (it turned out she was literally crazy, sleeping in her car and hoarding leftovers from catered lunch meetings in her desk until they rotted, but that's another story). This was my first experience with massive job failure on a professional level, and I called my dad to vent a little.
But the larger implications of what he'd said hit home a little later that night. I felt horrible for even calling him.
After a few minutes of me ranting about my situation, Dad stopped me cold. He was an emergency room doctor, and his day had also been long and difficult. "Look, I had three patients code on me today," he said. "I've been on my feet for 12 hours straight, I just got home, and I'm going to have dinner now." And he hung up on me.
At first, I was dumbfounded. He was supposed to be providing support in my hour of need! All I needed were a few comforting words and a few minutes of reassurance or advice! How could he just hang up on me like that?
But the larger implications of what he'd said hit home a little later that night. He was right: In the grand scheme of things, my issues were extremely minor... he was dealing literally with life and death, split-second and high-stress decisions with huge impacts that far outreached those of my desk job. I felt horrible for even calling him.
For the last decade and more, I've wrestled with the after-effects of that one conversation, whiplashing back and forth between the thought of him being right, that what I was experiencing was a minor glitch in the universe as compared to the other problems that others were experiencing on a massive scale, and the flipside: that it was my universe, and despite what was happening around me, my own perspective still mattered since that was all I knew and perceived.
It's taken a fair amount of time and some help from friends to whom I've related this conflict, but I think I've finally reached peace with the situation. What I've arrived at is that both viewpoints are right – there's some serious stuff happening in the world on a minute-by-minute basis, but my own situation matters as well; the fact that I recognize that there's a larger universe beyond my own and try to take it into account is balance enough so that I can be aware and try to put things in perspective while also caring for my personal and situational needs.
I only wish my father were still around so that I could relate to him the conclusion at which I've arrived and thank him for the wisdom he somewhat inadvertently provided.