Yesterday I was doing a variety of household chores, accompanied (as they often are) by a random shuffle of my music. A particularly great song came on – so great, in fact, that I ended up listening to it on repeat for about four passes, letting it wash over me.
The song is “Hey Mama” by Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats, and the theme of the song is a mother telling her son that despite his struggles and pains in life, he hasn’t earned the right to quit yet. He hasn’t yet worked hard enough to proclaim with certainty that life “ain’t gonna get any better.”
The song resonated with me – for one, it’s similar to advice my own father gave me. Advice which changed my life, honestly.
Here’s the truth: most people aren’t afraid of hard work. But most people want their perception of their rewards in life to roughly equal their perception of the pain and struggle it took to get it. Most people just want the scales to balance.
They won’t always balance. If no one’s ever told you that, I’m sorry to break the news – genuinely, not sarcastically. It sucks to tell someone that. It sucks as a parent to tell my kids that there are going to be things that just don’t work, things that fail, goals you don’t realize, pain that never pays you back in reward.
But I can tell you this, the silver lining. The scales don’t always balance. But as long as you’ve got a drop of sweat left in you, then you can’t know for sure that they haven’t. If there’s a prize at the top of a thousand stairs, then things can look pretty damned bleak when you’re on stair number 999. But maybe one more drop of sweat will do it.
No matter how badly the odds were stacked against you, no matter how much you had to go through, you haven’t earned the right to complain if you didn’t give everything you have to it. You ain’t worked hard enough.
The world gets better only through effort. Your personal world, the larger one around you, the one in the future for your children’s children’s children. When you get to the very end, the last breath, when you’ve given it your absolute all – on that day, if you want to complain that it won’t get any better, people will listen.
Except they won’t have to. Because if you do that, the world will be better. I promise.