“God helps those who help themselves” Acts 17.11. This is without doubt one of the most popular mottos of our culture. It is the root of the American ideal of pulling yourself up by your bootstraps and making something of yourself. Even every major religion and spirituality has some idea or phasing that encompasses this ideal. Yet, self-help seems to be one of the most allusive things in our society today.
This theme of helping yourself seems to be running into my life so much it has actually smacked me in the face. It seems everywhere I turn, I am either giving out this exact advise, or I am falling pray to not following it myself. Even in the book I am reading this idea of making your own fate has popped up; followed by the clear evidence as to why people need to be taking this well known simple phrase more to heart.
Everyone in the world seems to love to talk about the apathy of the younger generations these days. Kids who feel entitled to everything, who always have to have a trophy, that teachers are scared to give deserved grades too less they (or their parents) throw a fit, etc. Well let’s face it, the accusations are true. More often than not when talking to someone in their late teens to early twenties, they are whiney and still believe they know best. More so in these generations than any before them. I happen to have such a friend in this generation.
I was up late last night with this friend hanging out. During the course of the night my boyfriend and I were made aware of the fact that this very friend is being kicked out of his parents house, he has no job, no where to go, and he has never been on his own before; but he has a lot of ideas. As the discussion waned on it felt almost as two brick walls talking to one another, everything that was said was falling on deaf ears.
We wanted our friend to just have some plan or rational understanding of the predicament he was in; and he just wanted to focus on the possibilities of what he could do with his time now. Granted I was being more realistic within the conversation, I still could not help becoming transfixed by some of the idealism that he threw our way as a counterpoint to our arguments. Nevertheless I actually quoted to him “the Universe helps those who help themselves”, because having ideas are great, but if you do not act on them they never find any life.
To do anything with any ideas takes time and money. They take careful planning, research, and a lot of hard work mixed with determination. Nonetheless in my transfixed state I wondered if he was right, if all one needed to do was hope for the best and everything would work out. These were the thoughts rolling around in my head as I went to bed that night. This morning, however, I struggled to get out of bed. I hit my alarm for almost an hour and a half only to be roused by an “I am going to be late” moment. I never did make it to yoga class; and as I drove home slightly defeated by my laziness, I realized that I had failed to take my own advise.
I bring these points up not to bring anyone down, but rather to inspire. Yes be positive in your thinking, believe that you are actually going to become a famous photographer, pour your heart and soul into your passions; but keep the very real understanding in mind of what you need to do to get there. Laurence G Boldt calls this balance ‘Those Beautiful Shades of Gray’ in his book Zen and the Art of Making a Living. Boldt also explains the two other types of people who do not see the gray, the whitewash and the black pit. The whitewash are people who are blinded by their positivity from even seeing their flaws or the flaws in what they are doing for fear. This blindness causes close-minded thinking and an inability to adapt. The black pit are the people who spiral downwards after hitting a little speed bump, giving up often times before they ever begin. Neither have the whole picture because they are seeing the world one way or another, not everything in between; they either do not put the real work in to reach their goals, or they do not even try because they feel like it is all worthless.
It is a complicated world of hypocritical mixed messages out there. We rally behind the guy that took it upon himself to open his own business; but we are strangely opposed to the freelance writer’s part time job in fast food to pay her bills while she markets her book. We love to hear success stories, but try to cripple people as they work on making their own. We tell people that they have to ‘help themselves’ to accomplish their goals; but refuse to help ourselves in doing the exact same thing.
There is no mystery in the statement. There is a great mystery why we have a culture that says one thing and does another. The universe truly does help people who help themselves, who put the work in to getting what they want, who take that first step in accomplishing their goals, who stand up to everyone telling them it cannot be done by doing it. When you have an idea or a goal go out there and make it happen, just be realistic about what it takes to get there.