We Americans are a bootstrap people. We expect that we’ll always be able to pull ourselves up by our own couple of pieces of leather and when we do, we get what we deserve. It’s part of the spirit that went into making America great, and I get it. It sounds like a very nice idea–the harder you work, the greater your reward.
We’ve been taught that if you want something badly enough, you’ve just got to focus on it. Take a picture of your dream, put it on your bathroom mirror, and look at it every time you brush your teeth. You become what you think about, and thoughts are things. A couple of catchy sayings right there.
I heard something this past Sunday that I’ve heard many times over the years, but yesterday it really hit me. I’m a big Philadelphia Eagles fan, and after their win against the Arizona Cardinals, virtually every commentator said the same exact thing: “The Eagles now control their own destiny!”
What they all meant by this, of course, is that all the Eagles have to do is win the rest of their games and they’ll be in the playoffs. The onus is on the Birds, and when you think about it, it’s a nice position to be in–Take care of your business and nothing can stop you. Never mind the other team that’s playing against you with a destiny of its own to control.
Most of us look at our own lives this way. We each want to control our own destiny. We want the opportunity, and we’ll take care of the rest. If we pull ourselves up by our bootstraps, then we’ll be in control and everything will work out for us. We just need to work really hard.
That’s a really nice sentiment, except for the fact that it’s completely untrue.
I’m not knocking hard work. I think it’s essential and often does separate the successful from those who continue to find themselves wanting. Hard work is something each of us can control and it matters a great deal. But our destiny? That is another matter altogether.
What is our destiny? Is it that ultimate something? Is it that plateau that, once we reach it, we will have every need fulfilled and will no longer want for anything?
Isn’t it interesting that the second the final whistle blows to end the Super Bowl, to crown the “World Champions” of football, we immediately start thinking and talking about next year? Even if the Eagles (who “control their own destiny”) win the Super Bowl this year, it won’t be a matter of weeks before we Philly fans will start asking, “What have you done for me lately?”
It’s a very scarey thing to not feel in control, to not have a fool-proof plan. My trouble with “fool-proof” plans is that every plan I make has a fool as its creator to begin with. So, I’m doomed from the start. But, I do take solace in one thing: The one who promised to “make all things new” is constantly and continuously at work in me and in the world.
What does that mean to me in a practical, “real world” sense? It means that with all of my failed plans, with all of my hard work that is met by someone else’s decision to cast another actor in a role I’m up for because they think I’m too short for the part or because they’ve worked with another actor before or whatever, with all of my desires to get things right, my failures are not the last word. My failures are building on who I am and not tearing down what I dare to become.
I keep coming back to moments. I find my greatest sense of peace when I concern myself less with how the outcome of something is going to make me feel and more with what I’m experiencing and learning during the process.
We all set out on a thousand different paths along our way during this life and with each path we desire a destination. Our focus on that destination can sometimes keep us from noticing everything that’s going on along the journey. We don’t know where we’re going anyhow, and even if we do end up at the place we’ve dreamed of going to, the destination ends up being a disappointment before too long and we set out on another path. It’s the mystery that gives us the pleasure, even while we insist on going after certainty.
Can we dare to change that on which we place our onus? What if the onus of our joy and satisfaction were not placed on the destination but on the journey itself, because, in the end, we have no idea where any of our paths will eventually lead. I have a faith that propels me to believe that what lies before me is more wonderful and amazing than anything I could possibly dream up on my own.
I inevitably end up meeting people I never planned on meeting who, just by having gotten to know them, enrich my life in unexplainable ways. I always, and without fail, end up making choices I never anticipated having to make when I planned out my journey in my head. I put my onus on the outcome of a journey without realizing I have no right to do so.
I’ve decided to rethink my onus. From now on, I’m going to try to not give it away at all, not place it on anything. I still have dreams and desires, and I’ll work my tail off to be able to continue doing what I do, but I’ve got too much to worry about without placing my onus on something I can’t control.
Can you dare to release your onus?