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A Little Happier: The Lesson I Learned from the Thumbtack in My Shoe.

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When I was a junior in college, I started to experience a sharp, stabbing pain in my right foot. Usually it wouldn’t bother me, but sometimes it would make me jump in pain. My foot never hurt when I was sitting or lying down, only when I was putting weight on that foot.

I ignored it for a while, then the pain got bad enough that I headed, for the first time ever, to the campus health center. But the wait to see a doctor or nurse was so long that I gave up and went back to my dorm room.

As it happened, when I came back, my roommates were sitting around, so I joined them. After a while, one of my roommates said to me, “I want to go for a run, but my shoes are wet. Can I borrow your running shoes?”

Even back then, I wore running shoes as often as possible, so I was wearing them. I obligingly pulled off the shoes and handed them to her. She put them on, stood up, then sat back down and examined her right foot. “Hey,” she said, “you have a tack in your shoe.”

She handed me the shoe so I could take a look, and indeed, at some point I’d stepped on a silver metal thumbtack, and it had penetrated through the sole. Not by much—but just enough to poke through if I (or my roommate) put full weight on that foot.

I couldn’t believe how dumb I’d been! It never occurred to me to check my shoe; I never questioned the fact that it was me and my foot that were the problem.

Along the same lines, once I felt very frustrated with myself because I couldn’t get a particular online platform to work properly. I clicked on this, I tried that, just couldn’t figure out how to make it work. Finally, I asked my husband Jamie if he could help—he tends to be better with tech than I am. Jamie came to my office, sat in my desk chair, tried to launch the platform—and after 15 seconds said, “Our internet is down.” It wasn’t my technical skills that were at fault; we had no internet!

Whenever I get frustrated, I remind myself that I shouldn’t be too quick to hold myself responsible for the problem. Sometimes the problem is me. But sometimes the problem is something else.

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