Should we strive to be the golden child or should we suffer as the pariah? What is the right posture to assume as we move through life? Is this the right choice? Must we choose one of these two paths or is there a third choice that leaves us better positioned for true success?
I’ve been blessed in my life to have a myriad of experiences. I’ve been the poor kid, the kid that was picked last, the teacher’s pet, the director’s chosen one, the pariah of the extended family, the pride and joy of relatives and a brought to my knees repentant. I’ve been viewed as both the “Golden Child ascending the corporate or educational ladder” and the used up, wadded tissue, just one well-aimed free throw shot away from the discard bin of the workplace.
Let’s take a look at the so-called “golden path” first. Having the attention of teachers, parents, leaders, followers or loved ones lavished on you when you are doing things well is hopelessly intoxicating. We all fall into this trap. We feel validated and affirmed. Our chest sticks out just a little farther and our heads are held a bit higher as we walk through life. It is so appealing that we often feel a strong, magnetic pull to pursue this kind of admiration. I write a blog and lead people at home, church, work and online- I get the lure of this drug. I am willing to admit I have been addicted to it, off and on throughout my nearly 50 years on this planet. I am embarrassed to admit that there have been times when I have pursued this kind of recognition relentlessly, at the expense of so many other more valuable things (and people.)
I have also been blessed ( I know this will sound weird in a minute ) to be on the other end of the spectrum. I’ve had people call me everything from a “welfare wop” to someone who needs to get their head out of their #%*. I’ve been the kid who convinced himself he would never succeed, crying to myself that I would never find a girlfriend (let alone the awesome wife I have had for almost 22 years,) and I’ve been an adult lost soul. I have been the young adult who cared so much about himself he let his family members struggle when he could have helped them more if only he would have sacrificed his own time or money. I’ve spent my time wallowing in self-pity for months and years looking for people to blame. I’ve had a great glimpse at the drug associated with all that too, the drug of pervasive self-righteousness. The sweet cocktail of “no one understands me.” The succulent, artery-clogging dessert of “whoa is me because I am unique, forever persecuted.” It’s so easy to fool ourselves, when we are in this mode, that any little thing we do for others, even if done while grumbling the whole time, is so incredibly selfless and generous that we should be given not only an award but a place in heaven. Except that is not how that works.
My friends, the reality is that neither of these paths; the one where you are always trying to prove yourself and be validated by earthly “masters” nor the one where you are always trying to overcome “the unbeatable odds stacked against you” is the right path or the right narrative to live our lives by.
I can share from multiple, personal experiences that the higher we go on the “golden child ladder” the farther we fall, and fall we will, the endless climb is untenable. Similarly, the more we sink into the depths of self-righteous defense mode, the deeper we will plunge and spin, often circling for years without landing, ensnared in our own story of how great we are at raging against the machine or “the man.”
My suggestion is that the true path is the one of “this too shall pass.” You might think, “wait a minute, doesn’t that refer only to the pariah’s path?” Interestingly, no, it doesn’t have to stop there! I just sat and had lunch with an awesome person who shared her story of her young relative that has this tattooed on his wrist. When she told the story it had a twist. You see this wiser-than-his-age young man used his body art to remind him that whatever state he was in, high or low, accolades or rotten tomatoes, it is always going to pass.
So what do you do when you come to this realization? Another friend of mine and I talk about this all the time and we use the roller coaster analogy, swooshing our arms up and down to simulate the motion and then steadying our motion out to show a smooth glide down the middle. I think that is the best posture to be in and the best middle ground to seek in every situation. It has the best chance of success for all of us because we can only be truly better and better together when we aren’t distracted by trying to soar above one another. Likewise, we need not spend our time in a rage against those that we perceive to fly a bit higher, railing in righteous indignation. Instead, true peace, the peace my Savior talks about, in fact, is found with the third path. The path where we seek to be full of CHIT. The path where we ignore both the accolades and the chatterbox that tells us we are not good enough. The path where we remain Curious | Humble | Teachable and Intentional without buying into either one of the other two traps.
Good luck my fellow travelers, this is so much easier for me to write about than to do myself. My prayers are with you as you soar (at just the right CHITty altitude with just the right CHITty attitude.)