We tell ourselves so many lies. We hear them from the cradle, and so we believe them and they undermine us as we struggle to grow. One that I hear all the time is that “If you work hard, you will succeed.”
Certainly, hard work is essential for success, but it doesn’t guarantee it. There are so many other factors that come into play. I work hard finding cool stuff to sell in the shop, but what if the things I buy are not what customers want? My accountant told me, half in jest, “You should buy just what people want.”
If I could second guess what people are looking for, I’d be a psychic millionaire. Instead I go by my gut. One of the writers I enjoy is Jonathan Gash who writes about a disreputable character named Lovejoy. Lovejoy is an antique “divvie,” who feels a physical response in his bones when he is in the presence of a good antique. I feel a physical response myself when I see something I find beautiful, whether it is old or not. I know almost instinctively whether I want it or not. Still, I work hard to make the shop a success, but there are no guarantees.
Kids who play sports find out the hard way that they cannot count on winning, even if they play their hearts out. I remember my son Natty sitting on the field sobbing when the Country Day Lacrosse team lost the state championship to Durham Academy. Natty was the goalie and took the loss hard. He had played his hardest, and so had everyone else on the field, but both teams cannot win.
Similarly, when teams gather in prayer at the start of an athletic contest, asking God to help them win, I wonder what they are thinking. Both teams are praying, and only one will win. So does God like the winning team better? Or did the winning team just work harder? Or is it a more complex combination of factors? Hard work is a good thing, but it takes more than that to win.
Telling myself, “I should have worked harder,” is a good way to beat myself up and make me feel like a failure. And yet, we are taught to believe this lie.
An even bigger lie is “It’s all good.” No it is not all good! When a child gets cancer and suffers and dies, is that all good? When a car wreck leaves a good man paralyzed, that’s not good. Or when a student tries his hardest, and still fails the end of course test, that’s not a good thing. I could get political right now, and I could point to so many things that are not good, but I’m sure no matter your political convictions, your list would be very long. Certainly everything that is going on in the world right now is not all good. And usually when a person utters the words, “It’s all good,” is when something bad has happened.
Then there’s “everything happens for a reason.” We are meant to believe that something bad that has happened will be of benefit to us in the future. Even though we are hurt or miserable, we will be glad about this event at some point when the magical reason is revealed.
Sunday night after my memoir writing group finished up our meeting at Chifferobe, Ron and I searched for a place to have dinner. It was 8:15, and hardly anything in Black Mountain was still open. We decided to go to Wendy’s and just grab a sandwich. Since it was one of the only places open, there was a crowd there, and the few employees working looked frazzled. We placed our order and waited for a while beside the counter. Gradually other customers stacked up around us, also waiting. We got to know some of them as the wait extended. One group of young people was on their way back home a vacation. A tall guy wearing a tee shirt that said, “Americanism not Globalism” (clearly made in China) was muttering under his breath. Ron noticed that the floor in the kitchen was littered with paper, food, and other debris.
We were handed drink cups and we sat at a table nearby to wait for our sandwiches. Ron notified the cashier that the front of the house was out of napkins and sweet tea, and he was assured it would be taken care of right away. It wasn’t. We had ordered two simple sandwiches off the menu, nothing fancy or special, but had been waiting twenty minutes for our order. In that period, several customers gave up and left without their food. The tall man in the ironic tee shirt was notified that two different sandwiches he had requested off the dollar menu were unavailable and he would have to settle for a thin single hamburger on a bun. After an even longer wait, I approached the harried cashier and asked, “Is there a reason this order is taking so long?”
He looked at me with disgust, glanced to his right at the kitchen staff sweating and scrambling around, and said sarcastically, “Well, I’m sure there is a reason.”
I thought , “What a jerk!” but really I knew he was right. Everyone in that kitchen was working hard. Probably some people had not shown up for work and the ones who came in couldn’t keep up with the line of cars outside the window and the line of angry customers waiting by the counter for food.
There IS always a reason why things happen as they do, but it isn’t usually a pay-off. Hard work doesn’t necessarily lead to success. And it’s certainly not ALL good. And that includes the crappy sandwiches we were served at Wendy’s. They were not good at all. And the reason? I’m sure there was one, but that didn’t excuse the long wait for bad food.