There’s an old Chinese proverb that tells the story of a farmer who’s unfazed by the perpetual turning of his luck. When something good happens, and others celebrate, he responds with “We’ll see.” When it’s something bad, and their celebrations transform into consolations, his response remains the same. Short-term thinking tells us that what’s good or bad now will be good or bad later, while long-term considerations paint a broader picture of possibilities.
“Everything Happens For A Reason” is a motto people use to pick themselves up in various tragedies. To them, it means that terrible experiences have unknown underlying causes, and that through them, they’ll result in positive outcomes. Whether it’s a stronger faith in god, reframing one’s value system, or a mental strengthening, life is a series of blessings in disguise. People using that mental tool tend to lead happier lives, because they’re able to grasp the potential of seemingly hopeless scenarios.
Most of you know that I’m an atheist who tends to look for secular philosophies to help myself and others cope with life. But, I really like the phrase, “Everything Happens For A Reason,” most of all because it’s often used by the legendary rap group, The Outlawz. During a tech screwup on our part on our podcast episode with Napoleon, we felt ashamed for letting him down as, to us, it was disastrous, but it wasn’t to him; in his mind, everything happened for reason and he offered to do a reshoot. In essence, living by that motto helps its users accept the ambiguity of life, the uncertainty of what that good within the bad could be, but to trust in its existence.
Some would argue that this way of seeing the world is unrealistic, but I strongly disagree. Regardless of whether there’s anything spiritual beyond this world, we can agree that we can’t predict the future, therefore can’t predict the outcomes of challenging situations. In one of the most difficult periods of my life, I lost about thirty percent of my client caseload overnight because of an issue with an insurance company (which had an issue with the practice I worked for) and didn’t know how I’d survive another six months with a meager paycheck. So, I decided to apply to get paneled (to be allowed to take insurance on my own) and grow the small practice I developed on the side of my nine-to-five. In the end, with a lot of support from people I love, I decided to go off on my own and further develop my own private practice. Did my downturn have a reason? Was I meant to expand my practice? I don’t think so. But, it was an accompanying purpose.
So, my own motto is: Everything Happens With A Reason. And what I mean by that is that you have the ability to create a purpose within your struggle. I could’ve used that time to sulk, which I did, but eventually chose to move on because sulking was ineffective, at least in the broader picture. If there’s no cosmic purpose to your struggle, you can develop a more subjective one. Whether you’re actively utilizing resources to change your environment or even discovering which character traits you’re strengthening, all of us are able to turn metals into gold, regardless of our circumstances. The alchemist is internal.
The motto offers a sense of hope and control, the feeling that we can adapt and steer our ships in different directions, the knowledge that we don’t have to be swallowed by life’s tumultuous sea. It helps us remember that giving up is an option, not our destiny. The ancient Stoic philosopher Epictetus wrote, “It is not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters.” And if character is important to you, then take all of your disappointments and remind yourself of your maturity in tolerating them, of your diminishing sense of entitlement that accompanies acceptance. Look at your failures in the context of your values of courage and persistence, recalling your greatness for trying.
Success will always be a wonderful thing, and enjoying your achievements, in itself, isn’t good or bad, but being too attached to them hazardous. Even though I get rejected fairly often, I’m often proud of my attempts. Would I be happier, and even prouder, if successful? Unquestionably. But, I can still choose to calibrate success, and accept some level of pride for succeeding in my attempts. I chose to ask this girl out on a date. I chose to stand in front of an audience and take the risk of mass criticism. I chose to start a business. And, I may, and often do, fail in each endeavor, but I succeed in my main goals, which are simply to take calculated risks.
An overarching purpose is to become much more courageous. If it happens to be that I succeed, I’ll just feel better about myself, beginning with a foundation of good-enough. I’m good-enough if I try because I choose to manifest important values. And I’m even good-enough when I fail because I accept that overcoming fear and selfishness will sometimes be too hard, as long as I don’t delude myself into believing that something is too difficult when it isn’t. And, I’m good-enough because I self-examine and try my best to be a better man. Everything may not happen for a reason, but I consistently make sure it happens with one.