The Day I Changed My Attitude

Back when I was twenty-two years old, I was going through a tough time.

I was at that time truthfully an illegal resident of this country. My visa had expired and I had no pretext for extending it. Because of this, I was permitted neither to work nor finish my degree. I was engaged to my husband who I saw only once every six weeks and spoke to sometimes for less than thirty minutes a day. I was doing every odd job imaginable to make ends meet from cleaning homes and businesses, to nannying children to pet sitting and taking care of the elderly. Seven days a week, I never took a break, I had no option but to take every opportunity that came along.

And not all of those opportunities were pleasant. Once, as a housekeeper, I cleaned human shit out of the shower and picked up used tampons off the floor. I well know the lack of disrespect people have for the cleaning lady! I've completely gutted out the houses of people who had died or needed to move, organized estate sales, painted houses, cleaned garages, and more.

I was tired. Not just physically, I was mentally sick and tired of being extremely underpaid for the hard work that I was doing, and for the general lack of respect and appreciation people have for their hired help. And I was beginning to develop a real attitude about all of this.

I remember being irritable, not just to the point where other people found me unpleasant, but I couldn't stand myself. I woke up angry, went resentfully through my day, and tucked myself in at night with a scowl and very little to show for my effort.

I distinctly remember one evening sitting at my desk at home, in a rare moment of free time, trying to write but just burning on the inside. And in a defining moment I realized I couldn't stand myself any more. I would go crazy if I went on any longer with my attitude. No, there wasn't a whole lot I could do about my circumstances. But I was overlooking some of the things I should have been grateful for as well.

For one thing, moving to the United States had long been a dream of mine growing up, and that dream had come true. Yes, I was burning the candle at both ends some days, getting paid a pittance to do menial chores, but I was at least doing it here. Secondly, I was hardly in this alone. By this point my oldest sister (three years younger) was in the midst of these same struggles, trying to find a way to pay tuition and working every job on which she could grasp. And in that I had a built in best friend in the same shoes as me.

Most importantly, I thought to myself in that moment, my youthful confidence and ambition showing it's face for a moment, that these times of trial were shaping me into something formidable. I was growing up to be a hard working, resourceful woman who could manage a very slim income and save money on a shoestring (as the saying goes) while working tirelessly. And while my pride in some moments was taking a real beating (please insert here a vision of me cleaning human shit out of the shower), my sense of self-worth was not. I was growing into a woman that anyone would be proud some day to call their daughter or wife or friend.

This was a turning point for me, one of those pivotal moments of life that I can look back on and say "that was the day." The day when I realized my happiness, my internal joy, should not be defined in any way by my circumstances. I realized that I couldn't control my situation but I could control my attitude.

I remember writing a poem that night, taking responsibility for my attitude problem and committing to changing my outlook. And nothing at all about my circumstances changed at all. I continued doing the same work and bearing the same burdens for another full year and then some. But I can say that never again since then, no matter my burdens or trials or problems, have I ever gotten into a funk like that. Not when I was working full time and in grad school, not when I was dealing with the death of my father, not when I have had significant struggles at work.

That was the day I decided to take responsibility for my attitude, and Charles Swindoll is not wrong when he says attitude is 90% of everything. And I've always since had that quote hanging at my desk.