There are only two ways to live. You can look at a person who has achieved great things and say, “One day I will be successful, too.” Or you can look at a person who has achieved great things and say, “One day I hope he stops being successful so I can feel better about my failures.” America, we’ve got far too many people taking Door Number 2. It isn’t healthy.
Let me make this personal. Personally, I see a lot of people who are more successful than me, happier than me, more fit, more productive, and more skilled. That’s not because I have a “low self esteem” or because I need to work on my “self image.” My self image is quite fine. It’s accurate and realistic. There’s nothing wrong with my view of myself. Society wrongly teaches that you need to be delusional to “love yourself.” In fact, I’m not sure that “love yourself” is really the best mantra. Let’s try loving our spouse, our kids, our parents and God, instead of looking in the mirror all day whispering sweet nothings to our own reflections.
The point is, I acknowledge that there are people who are superior to me in just about every facet of human existence. What’s more, I recognize they have attained this higher degree of excellence through their own initiative. They have earned their place in this world, and I have no right to diminish or dismiss it. I will never look at another man or woman’s achievement and shrug it off by muttering to myself that they are merely the beneficiaries of good fortune, or they “had it easy,” and “never had to go through what I’ve been through.” I won’t say these things because I don’t know it to be true, nor can I ever. More importantly, if I try to rationalize my shortcomings by pretending they are the result of some sort of invisible barrier that constrains and restricts me, then I have forever surrendered myself to a life of helpless mediocrity. Life is change, and to reject your capacity to initiate change is to reject life. It’s a sort of spiritual suicide.
I’m not trying to write the first chapter of a self help book here. I just see us continuing this march towards some sort of robotic Utopia where everything is governed by fate and all human actions are the result of our fortunate or not-so-fortunate programming. Here’s a perfect example: A few days ago I wrote a post about obesity. The thrust of my message was that we control our bodies and we must challenge ourselves to reject the temptation to be sedentary and overindulgent. We move less, we eat more, we eat less healthy, and so we are fatter. It’s not a mystery.
This post was met with the predictable defensiveness from people who insist their own physical shape has nothing to do with anything they could ever possibly control. To those folks, I say fine. If you know that you are the exception to the rule, then so be it. Let me offer two thoughts, though: 1) Even if your weight is totally out of your control, that doesn’t undermine the basic principle that poor diet and lack of exercise lead to obesity, anymore than a tragic accident in shop class undermines the basic principle that humans generally have two hands. 2) Before you declare yourself the exception, consider paraplegics and severely handicapped people who manage, through grit and determination, to be more physically fit than most of us who have full use of our extremities. Are you still an exception? Ok. Fine then.
But here’s what you can’t say. Here’s what you can never say about anyone: “It’s easy for you to be in shape.” “You have it easy.” “You don’t know what it’s like to struggle like I do.”
I was bombarded with this sort of tripe. Not directed at me per se, but at anyone who has achieved a healthy physique. How dare you get angry at someone who tells you what you CAN achieve, and then turn around and tell them what they haven’t achieved. It might make you feel better to assume that all thinner people are just lucky, or spoiled, or genetically blessed, but you are wrong. Did it ever occur to you that these folks face the same challenges and have worked their asses off to overcome them? How dare you try to take that from them. Who is the real bully? The person who says, “Hey, I believe you can better yourself,” or the person who says, “Hey, your hard work means nothing and your success is meaningless”?
I’m not just talking about obesity here. I’m talking about everything. Stop assuming that successful people had it easier. Stop trying to reduce their accomplishments. Stop trying to take power AWAY from yourself and others. I’d much rather you blame me for my faults and give me credit for my strengths, than give me an excuse for my faults and undermine my strengths. What has happened to us? It was bad enough when we made pitiful excuses for everything, but now we’ve graduated to sitting on the sideline surrounded by an aura of snide resentment as we scoff at the people out on the field, bleeding and sweating and striving for every inch.
You might think you simply see a person who is wealthy, or physically fit, or happily married, or whatever other version of success, and you might want to assume that he or she “got lucky.” But these things aren’t usually accomplished passively. These are the fruits of labor that you don’t see, and maybe can’t even fathom. And you aren’t inside their minds to hear that voice telling them to give up, to give in, to stop trying, and you can’t hear them fight with that voice every minute of the day. Nothing is easy. Everything is earned.
Don’t take that from anyone. You have no right to do that.