When I went to Cedar Point, an Ohio amusement park, last week, I couldn’t help but “people watch” as I waited in the long lines to ride the roller coasters. One particular woman stuck out. She was wearing an Ohio State University football shirt that said, “earned, not given.”
I chuckled a bit to myself. While the Ohio State University football team, with its incredibly talented athletes, stellar coach, and championship teams, certainly earned their success on the field, that woman had absolutely no role in that success. While fan money and support certainly contribute to player morale and the upkeep of the facilities, she didn’t earn anything. If anything, football to her wasn’t even an inconvenience, but entertainment.
I’ve often noticed this phenomenon with fans of sports teams. I’ve had friends who refer to sports teams in the first person, using “we” to describe the victories and losses. Sitting at home on the couch every Saturday getting drunk and eating Doritos might be fun. I’d even argue they’re connecting themselves to something greater. But, watching others do something on a TV hardly allows you to authentically speak of the activity in the first person.
I’m not bashing sports or their fans. I look forward to Saturdays and Sundays in the fall and winter when I can sit back and relax after a long week to watch football with my brother and other friends. I follow the Cleveland Browns even though it’s utterly pointless and illogical.
Still, as I thought more about the issue while waiting in line, I came to the conclusion that “given, not earned” might be a better t-shirt slogan if people were being more honest. And, it doesn’t just apply to sports teams and fans. Generally, we live in an age of unrealistic expectations and entitlements. Everyone wants the glory, but no one wants to do the work.
Social media exacerbates the problem because it’s all too easy to preen on social media and receive instant accolades. I’ve seen people get thousands of Instagram likes and Facebook shares simply for expressing their intention to get in shape or pursue an accomplishment. They can bask in the attention of thousands simply for declaring that they intend to pursue success. While encouragement and affirmation are important, strongly applauding someone for simply deciding to change is setting a pretty low bar.
When I was in high school, a freshman told my realist, blunt gym teacher that she wanted to be a veterinarian. My teacher told her, based on her current lifestyle, she’d never make it. Of course, other teachers and counselors were up in arms and rushed to comfort this poor girl who just had her dreams crushed by a mean teacher.
However, the kindest person that day was my gym teacher. This young woman smoked weed, was in and out of trouble, and had failing grades. Could she be a veterinarian? Absolutely. Was it very likely? Not with her choices. And, pretending that her dreams would become a reality was utter nonsense. Yet, no one dared state that truth except one blunt gym teacher.
She wanted the money, status, and working with animals all day that came from being a veterinarian. But, she wasn’t willing to make the lifestyle changes needed to actually be an animal doctor. She preferred smoking weed and lazing around with her friends to spending hours studying math and science. I’m not even judging her choices. But, at some point she, like all people, had to own up to her own willingness (or lack of it) to pursue her alleged dreams.
I hear a lot of complaints about the wealthy and successful, like how they are just so lucky. I’ve heard it at the gym too where fit women are dismissed as “skinny bitches” or guys with good muscle tone are obvious douchebags.
Sure, successful people can be jerks. And, certainly there are people who are handed major advantages in life. But, I don’t care if you’re the luckiest person in the word with perfect timing and a rich dad…If you don’t practice hard and work your butt off, you’re not going to succeed at much.
Again, social media and TV contribute to the myth that success isn’t earned. You watch LeBron James make a pivotal shot at the last minute or see an amazing guitarist surrounded by groupies and think, “what a lucky bastard.” Of course, those snapshots don’t tell the whole picture. Look at the musician example. You don’t see the thousands of hours of practice, the sleepless nights playing for small audiences in shitty dive bars, or the hours spent contacting and failing to attract agents.
If you only look at results, it’s easy to think something is easy and you deserve it too. If you look at processes, however, you get a better picture. And, that picture always shows hard work, exhaustion, failure, thoughts of giving up, and finally, insane resiliency.
A friend of mine used to give advice on a forum filled with guys who struggled with dating. These guys loved to blame many things for their failures. Almost all of them were outside of their control. They were single due to their height, their facial structure, the shallowness of women, the fact that their college major didn’t have the right male to female ratio, and many other ridiculous excuses.
One young man on the forum actually messaged him asking for help. My friend laid out about 5-6 things the guy could do to improve himself and get dates. To his shock, the young man messaged back that his advice was “too difficult.” So, this guy went back to complaining, continuing to blame others while refusing to change what he was able. He felt a woman should be given to him like a gift from Santa Claus, rather than him becoming a better man and actually attracting one.
Although it’s a huge cliche, that t-shirt was exactly right. In life, everything valuable is earned, not given. Yeah, some people have it easy or easier. They might be naturally good looking, charming, and come from a rich family. Maybe their dad got them a job or their mom paid for expensive acting lessons to allow them to make it big.
But, if you’re reading this and aren’t living your dream, then living on easy mode isn’t possible. So, that means you’ll have to figure out a way to earn your success. It might mean stress, risks, and a lot of unpleasantness. But, it’s the only proven formula for success. And, when you’re sitting where you want to be, you can look back and remember those early difficult moments with pride and nostalgia.