Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Earn It

“Thanks for the A,” I said to Mr. Fujii, my high school English teacher. It was the last day of my junior year of high school. Class had been dismissed and it was just him and me in a room full of boxed books. He seemed cynical of my gratitude, barely glancing over his glasses at me. “You earned it,” he replied.

Something in his tone made me feel like I was being corrected ... again. Earlier in the semester, he wrote on one of my assignments, "You seem to think you don't have to work in order to succeed." He was right. I had gotten way too comfortable in the classroom. Fortunately, he called me out in time for me to turn around and really put some effort into my writing.

I wish I could say that since then, every life experience has fallen neatly within the boundaries of this paradigm, but sometimes you get what you sweat for and sometimes you don't.  

Sometimes, no matter how hard you work, you still don't win. 

On the other hand, sometimes you'll get something great that you totally don't deserve -- a gift, a job, a second chance. You win some, you lose some. Big deal right?

More often than not, I believe our frustrations and failures are due to the fact that we spend so much energy on things that cannot be earned while failing to woodshed at things of immeasurable value, which we seem to think will simply fall into our laps. It's like that business parable where a CEO climbs to the top of the ladder of success only to find he had propped it against the wrong wall.

Perhaps one of the greatest confusions of our generation is, “What can be earned and what can't?”

There are things that are clearly not earned, like life itself.

There are things that should be earned -- like money or prominence -- that our society seems to distribute indiscriminately, earned or not.

There are things that should not be earned -- like love -- that many of us have been conditioned to believe is dispensed according to the quality of our daily performances.

This confusion seems to infiltrate our concept of the spiritual life as well. Generations of scholar-saints have conclusively determined that there are things in the spiritual realm that cannot be earned. On the other hand, there are things for which we should strive that were never promised to rain down from heaven -- like integrity, reliability (i.e., faithfulness), and a good name. The items on the latter list require heavy woodshedding.

I hope it's not too late to work on the things that count.