First World Problems

First World Problems.

The meme has thousands of hashtags, youtube videos and tumblr blogs devoted to first world citizens contemplating the inner turmoil caused by their daily latte taking too long to prepare or troublesome inconsistent wifi networks.

It’s a meme I usually am able to tune it out, but I saw one this weekend that caught my attention:

I’m not the most empathetic person in the world. Nate says that’s because I don’t have feelings. That might be true. But it’s less about my feelings and more about this concept.

Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional.

My response to most people who feel stuck is to just change. Stop it. If you’re tired of doing boring things. Do something interesting. If you want to go on an adventure, make it a priority and just go.

It’s not because I don’t care, but there are bigger things to worry about. So many “first world problems” are artificial manufactured drama because the lives led up to that point aren’t satisfactorily interesting enough on their own.

*So What?*

You get to choose.

You always get to choose.

You get to choose if you labor on in the “agony” of your first world problems or you do something bigger.

Instead of creating artificial drama, jump into a real story with real consequences and real drama. Find something hard – something you don’t think you can do.

Something impossible.

Then go do it.

You’ll start living a life worth writing about and your wardrobe decisions will get a lot easier.

Gaining Perspective

“It’s hard” is usually enough to stop most people from doing what they want. Feeling “stuck” is usually a good enough excuse to keep most people from doing something. But if you prove it at all, you quickly realize it’s a bad excuse. The best way to get “unstuck” is to gain perspective.

You can do this in a few ways – traveling, pushing yourself, meeting other people – but it’s usually as simple as just doing something. When you do and you realize that billions of people don’t get to worry about having to wait a few extra minutes for their latte, because they’re more concerned with how they’re going to eat, drink clean water or get a basic education – you realize that your problems seem a lot more insignificant (and…consequently…they get a lot easier).

That’s why something as simple as cold shower therapy works. It’s a viceral experience that shows you that most of your hangups are in your head. You break through a little bubble of self-pity, whining and get over yourself.

There are a lot of legitimate problems in the world. The inability to pick out which shirt you’re going to wear in the morning is not one worth worrying about. If you choose to make it one, you’ll live a very small story.

Forget first world problems. Join a bigger story and get after some real world problems that actually matter.

If you’d like to get involved with a genuine real world problem, I know a great cause you can help out with. We’re building a school to help 1,000 kids in Guatemala have access to education.

Donald Miller’s original work One Million Miles is what inspired me to start living a better story, push my limits and start this blog. If you want help living a better story, his followup project Storyline is worth a look.

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  1. says

    Joel, very well said. After my first experience overseas (Haiti) I came home to Canada, and nearly felt sick to my stomach when I heard people bitch about their trivial problems. I now work in Africa, and have many local co-workers and friends. Their problems are real problems, i.e. our receptionist who is pregnant and just suffered through a bout of malaria, and is now concerned for the health of her baby; the kid who didn’t show up for work yesterday and may have yellow fever; the guy who can’t afford his son’s operation. (And that was just this week.)

    I don’t judge people back home for living their lives. But I do wonder in absolute amazement at the millions of people who just trudge through life (the only one they have, as far as I know) and let it happen all around them. It kills me.

    Keep it coming.

  2. says

    Another inspirational piece. It’s something I get into my friends about all the time. So your food took a little longer? So what if your phone bill was a little high this month. Get over it, at least you can go out to eat and you have a phone. First world problems is what I say.

    Keep up the good work.

  3. says


    Nate said what about you?? :)

    Anyway, great post. Perspective is essential because we all only have a certain amount of time and resources. And like you say . . . we get to choose. My favorite phrase is “artificial manufactured drama.” I often see people doing that.

    Also, thanks for the link to Storyline. I hadn’t seen that before and it looks interesting.


  4. says

    Joel — Great post. Timely for me because a few nights ago, my roommate said something about how she wondered what her life would be like if she had money. And I told her about the email I’d just gotten in my inbox from my Cameroonian family. There’s been so much rain in the village that their water source got contaminated with an unknown disease (I’d guess cholera) that had half the (large, polygamous) family in the hospital. They were still drinking from that source though, because they have no other way to get water.

    I wrote back my sympathies but felt pretty helpless.

    Kinda makes you think twice, eh?

  5. Suzie says

    Thank you for this reminder. Love this post, love the website. Especially loved this “Best way to get unstuck is to gain perspective. You can do this in a few ways…push yourself…usually as simple as just doing something.” So true. Over 20 years ago I was in a bad relationship, plus drinking too much, plus not going anywhere. First I stopped drinking, then ended relationship, then started just doing stuff. Scary stuff for me, doing things by myself (travel, go to concerts, eat out for example). It changed my life forever for better. Thanks for reminding me of that. I needed a little nudge!

  6. Dean says

    In my humble opinion, and without getting too existential, the even bigger picture is that there are no problems, there are only people. Problems don’t exist in nature, in any context sans language. They are entirely a creation of the human perspective. This means, for the most part, any negativity resulting from perceived problems is optional, should one choose a less relative viewpoint.

  7. says

    I got into suffering so much that I even bought books on the subject. My life is totally different now. “Doing Something Therapy” is exactly what helped me. Doing for someone else keeps me well away from the poor me mentality. I commend joel for his school initiative. In addition, there are plenty of places to put your words into actions right in your community. I get the great opportunity to be able to help with men from homeless shelters and those coming out of jails. I will tell you that nothing makes me more grateful for what I have then when I witness how difficult it can be to climb back from such misfortunes. Those that “get off the couch” at least have a chance at recovering some of their lives. Great post.

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