When You Do Everything Right and Things Don’t Work Out
The hardest thing for me is not when I fail. The hardest thing is not when I don’t get what I want. The hardest thing is not when all the things I wish for do not materialize. The hardest thing is not NOT having enough or NOT being enough. The hardest thing is not disappointment in others and it’s not disappointment in myself for not sticking to a routine or not trying hard enough or not being everything that I could be.
The hardest thing for me is when I do everything “right” and things still don’t work out.
This struggle comes to me in many forms, and it’s likely that you know a few as well.
It’s sticking to a pristine doctor-ordered diet and getting up before the sun every morning and cramming in two hours of some combination of cardio and weight lifting…only to gain inches where I want to lose them–not for lack of trying but because I have an endocrine disorder.
It’s working fifteen hours a day to get the results I want in my job, doing everything I can to do right by the amazing people who work for me and to get my customers what they need on time while winning awards for our break-neck speed and creative solutions…and meanwhile being told by someone in my chain of command who barely knows me that I’m a horrible leader and a slug who’s never in the office to do any work.
It’s being in a relationship where I am kind, gentle, loving, compassionate, interested, loyal, faithful, nevereverever manipulative, always understanding, and alwaysalwaysalways emotionally supportive…and finding out after the fact just how few of those things were reciprocated.
It’s spending hours a day to help an employee to learn a new skill, to gain confidence, to build a promotion-worthy resume, and then finding out that that employee’s clandestine actions have almost cost me everything I’ve spent years to build.
It’s nurturing and caring for a younger friend who is lost, staying up all night to talk through heartache and heartbreak, encouraging that young friend to keep going just one more day, and seeing it happen again and again through the years but always being there, only to be slammed by that person as spiritually deficient when they are experiencing a temporary arch of happiness and I am grieving a loss that I somehow manifested.
It’s spending years of my life being supportive of someone who has been hurt by a mutual adversary, always there for them, always picking them up when they’re hurting, cheering them up, holding their hand, pulling them through it, only to see them eventually put into a situation to choose between me and the person who was never there for them, and watching them choose the other person.
It’s doing everything right and ethically, it’s giving it my all, it’s being supportive and giving what I would want from someone else and it still not working out.
I think we all seek balance in our lives and that being out of balance is as natural to our human state of being as seeking balance. It’s a vicious, wobbly cycle that never seems quiet for very long. But I crave balance, and even more so, my acute need for justice.
I grew up with it drilled into me that all I had to do was work very, very hard and be a loyal and supportive friend, and a good person, and do my best not to hurt other people…and everything will work out.
If it doesn’t work out, I was told and came to believe, then you must not be trying hard enough.
Between the Southern Baptist mindset that was instilled in me and the abrupt sense of injustice when a local God-fearing family was slaughtered when I was in middle school, I’ve desperately needed to believe that doing everything right would ensure that life would work out. But it’s not always so.
Oh, there are many things in my life that have worked out and have worked out beautifully, but it’s the injustices, the lack of balance, that stand out to me because I crave that balance and justice and the mind’s eye will always be drawn to what isn’t the desired norm. I’m not the only one, apparently, or other people wouldn’t be so quick to tell me that “You just need to work harder”at my job, at my relationships, at my finances, at my health, at my friendships, at different projects–all without ever asking how hard I’m already working or what I’m doing on my side of the equation as if–again, reinforcing my childhood beliefs–that all I have to do is work harder and everything will be fine, so if it doesn’t work out, then it’s all my fault.
For most of us, our lives go through great joys and great sorrows but life seldom stays the same. Those moments of joy are ones that we need to latch onto to bathe ourselves in and remember every touch, every smell, every kiss, every smile for later because even if the things that make us joyous remain in our lives, the initial joy we feel does not keep that level of intensity. Even the best and greatest joys will fade as we become accustomed to them just as the fragrance of roses will become less intense if we smell them every day in our surroundings.
Unlike what I was taught as a child, hard work and loyalty do not guarantee the joys in our lives that we deserve and equally do not prevent the sorrows we don’t. Many of the injustices in my life have taken me to a better place, a better job, a better relationship, closer friends. Others have not. Or at least, not yet.
But at least one thing can be said about all the times that didn’t work out in spite of my best efforts, and that is that I am proud of the way that I conducted myself in all those times. I am proud that I have always worked hard and that I’ve come up with products and services that helped people in need. I’m proud of what I’ve done for my employees to develop them and give them better chances at promotions and future assignments. I’m proud of how loyal I’ve been in relationships and friendships, sticking with people through all their failings and successes and being a good and supportive friend. I’m proud that I’ve been there for the people I love when they’ve needed me, and I’m proud that I gave to a partner everything they needed and everything I wanted for myself, and never once bowed to manipulation to keep a man.
So if there’s a consolation prize in these disappointments, then that is it, that even though I did my best and often worked insanely hard at it, life didn’t turned out as it was “supposed to.” The effort put in did not yield the effort promised.
But the effort put in is something I can always be proud of.