From What I Have Been Spared

I have had difficulty with being thankful, as most do in one way or another throughout their lives. My difficulties have not been in regards to money or possessions. Hopefully my family, friends and acquaintances can attest that I have been appreciative for what others have provided me in those areas.

No, my struggles are due to a different rudimentary cause: the ego.

Starting in my later high school career, I gained a strong, overriding ambition to become recognized as an intellectual, politician and/or writer. Despite achieving a reasonable bit of success for my age- graduating as high school co-valedictorian, acceptance into prestigious local universities and being awarded various scholarships- I was impatient with my perceived lack of success. I wanted to be published in prestigious journals and magazines, win national awards, become nationally known and launch a political career as fast as possible. I planned on becoming a Congressman at 25, a Senator at 30 and so on. I aimed to be on the Forbes “30 Under 30” List and similar rankings. I constantly compared myself to famous figures in history to determine if I was on the “correct, productive” trajectory.

I was so caught up into chasing these dreams that I did not slow down to appreciate my accomplishments. I could not stop thinking of how I would feel and what I would do when my moment in the limelight inevitably came.

If all this seems exhausting, it’s because it was. But in some odd way, I found it exhilarating.

As I got older and had more experiences, such as living in Mexico and rediscovering my passion for fiction writing, my earlier metrics for success slipped away. I abandoned my political goals due to the nasty reality of the U.S. political system. I figured out that many of the “X number under X age” are marketing opportunities and not indicative of someone’s success or someone else’s failure. I realized that many famous people have extraordinary advantages and there are some who deserve fame but never got it for whatever reason.

A friend mentioned a Yiddish proverb, which helped me further shift my philosophy.

“If you can’t be grateful for what you have received, then be thankful for what you have been spared.”

Over the course of a few days, I reviewed what has happened in my life, how it could have been worse and the many ills that I have never encountered.

I have been spared war, plague, debilitating illness, the death of family and friends and a host of other things that many receive and do not deserve.

What I desired would not have changed my life in a drastic, fundamental way aside from earning enough money to not have to work a traditional job. Despite all the fame and recognition, I would still put on my pants one leg at a time, be susceptible to the same illnesses and eventually die along with everyone else. Furthermore, it wasn’t as if I was harboring regrets on my deathbed. I was less than a quarter century old and frustrated because I had not yet taken my chosen fields by storm.

My struggles to accept my lack of success became rather trivial. I put my angst into perspective and I was able to have a more nuanced view of my accomplishments and goals. An application of “Everything in moderation” as the Greeks believed, I suppose.

It’s easier to think of what we want but do not possess instead of being thankful for what we have been spared. Almost, if not all, of us could point to areas in which we have been shortchanged, cheated, not recognized or rewarded, etc. It’s a natural human instinct.

I do not believe we should get rid of that instinct but rather moderate it. Whenever you find yourself unsatisfied for what you have, think about what you have been spared. A simple reflection, whether thought or written, can do a lot to your perspective.

We all should strive for whatever we want more of. Life is about growth, progress and achievement. But at the same time, some of the most powerful growth, progress and achievement comes from our own realizations.

Such as being thankful for what you’ve been spared.

Agree?

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Patrick McCorkle

I am a young professional with keen interests in politics, history, foreign languages and the arts.