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A young woman asked me this question on Instagram: Do you have a blog post about “imposter syndrome?” Sometimes I feel like I don’t deserve the beautiful life I have.
I understand where she’s coming from. We’ve all felt at one time or another that we don’t deserve the cards we’ve been dealt—good or bad. There are good people who endure so much pain: an untimely death of a loved one, illness; financial problems, or heartbreak. And there are bad people who seem to be rewarded despite the hurt they’ve caused or the mistakes they’ve made. Either way, the question becomes, “Why did this happen if I didn’t deserve it?”
My answer: Life is not at all about what you deserve. It’s about what you do with it.
Recently, my mother-in-law asked me if I’d call an Uber for my grandparents to ride from Hallandale to Miami to attend a funeral. “You know how much they love Elisa,” she said. “They want to be there for her.”
I remembered Elisa. She lived in my grandparents’ building. I’d met her several times when we visited. Her husband was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s over twelve years ago. He’d been bedridden for quite some time. It was no surprise that he’d pass away soon. “Oh, poor thing,” I replied. “She took such good care of her husband. At least he’s resting now.”
My mother-in-law’s eyes opened wide and her eyebrows raised. “No! It was not her husband who died. It was her son! He died of a heart attack. He was only 44 years old.”
I gasped. How could that happen? Wasn’t it bad enough that woman had endured the slow and painful deterioration of her husband to then have to lose her young and vibrant son? It wasn’t fair. It isn’t fair.
We could argue all the reasons Elisa didn’t “deserve” what happened to her. But does it matter whether she deserved it? What difference would that make?
Also, how far should we take the deserve argument? Do you deserve to be born in a privileged country versus an underdeveloped country? Do you deserve to be born to one family versus another? Rich or poor? Homosexual or heterosexual? Male or female? Tall or short?
To deserve something is that you are born worthy of that thing. I would argue that we are all born worthy of love, health, abundance, joy, success, and fulfillment. And yet there are so many who are deprived of those essentials since birth—without having done anything to deserve otherwise. So then what? If life isn’t fair or predictable, what do we do about it? How do we reconcile the things that happen? How do we maintain a sense of control?
We eliminate the word “deserve” from our vocabulary. We accept that life is what it is, and we control the only thing we can—our attitude.
Once we accept that what we deserve is irrelevant, then we can take full advantage of the life we have. We can choose what we do within our circumstances.
So you made a bunch of mistakes in the past and you feel you don’t deserve the life you have now? Apologize, forgive yourself, and commit to serving others from this point forward. Use your energy to be good and do good. Those mistakes will make you less judgmental, more forgiving, and more compassionate to others. You are in training for something bigger.
So you’ve been a good person and you’re dealing with a hardship now? Let yourself experience that pain, be patient with yourself, and look for the lessons. Those hardships will make you stronger, wiser, and more compassionate to others. You are in training for something bigger.
I do not believe that everything happens for a reason—but I believe everything that happens is training for the next obstacle.
You can always make better choices, pick yourself up again, express gratitude, and serve others. You have much more power than you think.
As for Elisa, my hope is that she finds peace and hope in this difficult time; that her remaining children, grandchildren, and community offer her the love and support she will desperately need; and that she is filled with blessings in spite of her pain.
When you eliminate the word “deserve” from your vocabulary, you shift from a “why me?” mindset to a “what will I do about it?” mindset. Then it no longer matters that life isn’t fair or predictable—what matters is that it’s worth living.