Let me set the scene: It’s Friday at 5pm, you’ve had a really rough week and a trusted colleague invites you for dinner or drinks and a little destress session from a long five days. You join them and a few other co-workers at the local bar or restaurant and the stories of the week start. Who had the worst student interaction, who had the worst duty call, who experienced the most ridiculous request from a parent, or perhaps the worst interaction with a supervisor.
We’ve all been there. We’ve commiserated and felt the sense of relief about having conversations with people who get it. Not with your parents who perhaps don’t really understand your job or a partner who empathizes and supports you, but doesn’t share your world, or friends who are still a little confused as to why you haven’t technically left college. There is something liberating about commiserating with people who simply understand.
I must admit that I am a member of this club. I have a group of six former colleagues who have since moved throughout the country, but we share a group text that has been going for the better part of two years. We’ve shared joys and sorrows, engagements, pregnancy news, the adoption of a wide variety of pets, and job search woes. What I love the most about this group of friends is the diversity of our conversations. Are there moments of pure steam-letting about colleagues, co-workers, supervisors, or University politics? Of course, but that is not the main connection to one another.
This leads me to question, when does commiserating in a healthy, reflective way border on complaining for complaining’s sake? I can’t help but think of all of the Twitter accounts that are based on the idea commiserating (or complaining), depending on your lens. Some of those accounts include SAProblems, BadSAPro, BadHallDirector, SAProSarcasm, BadSAPro, BitterSAPro, ResLifeSpouse, BitterHD, and the list goes on and on and on! Combined, these accounts have thousands of followers.
Are these accounts, and more specifically, conversations that in reality are complaining, moving our field forward? Are they doing us a service by pointing out the areas of frustration and tension or are they simply a way to play the “one up” game and think your woes are the worst?