Things can always get worse, but the generally work out in the end

We humans are strange creatures, are we not. We never quite seem to stay on a constant trajectory. Rather we undulate between ups and downs, highs and lows. The trivial and overwhelming events of life, the constant bombardment of outside forces, people and events seem to prevent us from staying the course (good or bad).

This highlights the dichotomy by which we live. While we desire (or perhaps more precisely dream of) a brighter future, we seem more inclined to moor ourselves to the negative. Once we embark on this journey (often sparked by the trivial-a minor squabble with our partner or the set-back in business), the downward trend begins. I have often found it exceedingly difficult to raise myself back up.

This brings me to one of the great fallacies of life. This is our belief that, in times of hardship, we turn to the mantra, “Well, things can’t get any worse.” I was disabused of this notion when I was in Army Ranger school. Bluntly, it sucked…and it seemed the “suck” constantly increased (as it was designed to do). At first, I fell back on that time-worn belief (yes, things would get better). Most often they did not, and this led to constant disappointment. In fact, I saw numerous physically strong men fall by the wayside because they could not wrap their head around the continual erosion of expectation (Ranger school typically had a “drop-out rate” of about 50%).

It was only when you accepted that “things can always get worse” that you escaped the mental trap that ruined many candidates. It required an alteration of mindset (“Bring it on. Is that all ya got?”). Once you got past the illusion of impending improvement, things actually did seem to change (for the better). I don’t think it was that they physically did change, it was that they began to exceed (what had become exceedingly low) expectations.

Life is “relativity” at work. Our perception of what is satisfactory is not based on absolutes. After all, it is more difficult to believe you are well off (regardless of how financially secure you are), if you look around and everyone else is better off than you are. I suppose it is the inverse of the old adage, “Misery loves company.” (“I may be in bad shape, but I’m not as bad off as that guy”). In that company, we find solace.

Regardless, we need to overcome our inclination to use comparison as a gauge of our well-being. If we were more explicit (and certain) about what we wanted out of life, then what other people have would not matter so much. After all, if I have achieved my own personal goals (e.g., have the job or lifestyle I desire), what difference does it matter if my neighbor makes more than I do or gets to take better vacations?

In one of God’s grand ironies, it is likely that your neighbor likewise looks at you and feels the same pangs of jealousy (for other reasons). You may not be as affluent, but you get to go to all your kid’s soccer games. Which person is the wealthier? It is in the eye of the beholder.

If we are not careful by focusing on the contrasts, we become self-limiting beings. “The other guy started with more. They had more advantages.” We know that “Life ain’t fair,” but it can be hard to overcome the resentment it engenders.

I found myself in that boat when I started my business. I got into construction. I looked at more established people (they had money, and land and a reputation). I had a home equity loan and a small loan from my parents. I was at a disadvantage, but it was part of the choice I had made. I could not undue it and it could have defined my future (if I let it). Our only real option is to work hard(er) to overcome the perceived disadvantages.

By the grace of God (and significant effort), I was able to create the lifestyle I wanted. Others became much bigger and perhaps more successful, but that is the path they chose. I am satisfied with the road I took.

Certainly, it can always get worse (and we should steel ourselves for that situation). However, I have found that things really do generally “work out.” It is frequently not as we planned, but it works out nonetheless. Our plan is not God’s plan. But, if we strive (fail and stive again) to put to use the gifts He gave us (to try to be all that God designed us to be), I have Faith that things really do work out…and for the most part they have.

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