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First World Problems

My new home office. Wonky furniture placement and air-seeping windows are good problems to have.

The new home office/writer’s den is finished! We moved in my furniture, wired the room for the network, and I’ve spent the last week enjoying the view from the windows overlooking our pine tree. Bird watching here is a far better occasional distraction than garbage trucks out front.

The first furniture arrangement had my laptop worktable facing a wall, which is bad feng shui. Turning the table 90 degrees to face out the windows is, however, awkward placement related to my desk. In the end the view outside won over. It was angst-filled and time-consuming furniture shuffling, and a prime example of what is called a First World Problem.

I didn’t coin the phrase, but I am going to co-opt it. What’s a “First World Problem” you ask? A Google search will open up the phrase for you in far more morbidly illuminating ways than I could ever hope to accomplish here. Urban Dictionary defines it as:

Problems from living in a wealthy, industrialized nation that third worlders would probably roll their eyes at.

For example: Oh, I’m so conflicted – which way should I turn my worktable in my private, hi-tech equipped home office overlooking a pine tree bird sanctuary? In the last couple of weeks, a girl in Pakistan was shot in the head for going to school. A 16 month old Mali child was brought into a clinic with pneumonia and anemia, weighing nine pounds. A 20 year old woman in Afghanistan was beheaded for refusing to become a prostitute.

These stories are shocking on their own, but deeper tragedies emerge when you consider the ‘why’ of each situation. What is life like where it is dangerous for a schoolgirl to learn? Where a toddler is so malnourished as to be outweighed by western newborns? And where refusing to sell your body for sex to feed your extended family is grounds for getting your head chopped off? Where to put my worktable, indeed.

Problem perception is highly subjective. A few weeks ago during our trip to the Adirondacks, my watch battery died. I couldn’t stand not knowing the time and ended up buying an inexpensive watch. First World Problem.

Have you seen the commercials for scoop-shaped breaded chicken? Apparently, standard chicken strips are under performing when it comes to scooping up ranch dip. No doubt a focus group revealed that fast food customers spend a lot of time dredging their fried chicken for proper dip coverage. First World Problem.

To be fair, westerners do suffer a share of real hardships from economic woes, health issues and criminal violence, just to name a few. We don’t necessarily have to flog ourselves out of guilt.

But, lost sunglasses? Uncharged smartphone? Cable signal out? Forgot to start the dishwasher? In our everyday, western world, richest nation life, any of us would number these among our problems. No judgements.

From now on, though, every time I find myself bemoaning a similar problem, I plan to pause and luxuriate in the moment. Just to be grateful that this is the problem I have, as I’m sure there are some starving, wounded or dead people who would trade places with me in a heartbeat.

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  1. I rarely stop to listen to myself gripe. Thanks for the amplification! I feel both better and ashamed as well!

  2. “First world problem” Wow, this is a new one on me. Really gets you thinking, doesn’t it. Thanks for an excellent article and shedding some much needed light today.

  3. Your room looks beautiful. I did not know feng shui advises against placing a desk against a wall, but I love that you have given yourself a view. The third world problems you mention are, in part, problems of cruelty and indifference. We all want to rid the world of such problems. However, embracing the problem of making your workspace optimal or of knowing the exact time is nothing to be ashamed of. Rather than seeing it as first world versus third world, let it be personal versus community and consider the world our community. In the end, we do what we can to make our personal world and the larger world better places.

    • Well said, Rosemary. Some people do cross the globe to try to make the world a better place, but those wonderful people are few in a population of billions. Our problems are our problems, and I’m careful not to judge myself or others too harshly. It’s just a point of awareness.

  4. I have acquaintances who spend a lot of time in Ghana, a third world country. David frequently overhears people in the RV park in Miami bemoaning some plight, and he is quick to remind them that they are experiencing a “first world” problem. While it is sometimes annoying to have someone belittle a problem that in our world IS a problem, it doesn’t hurt to have someone occasionally remind us that our problems aren’t quite as serious as we might think. When the restaurant food that I just ate wasn’t quite up to my standards, it’s probably good to be reminded that I not only had enough to eat, but I had someone else make it and clean it up for me.

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