I hate cheesy platitudes. Like, I really despise them. If it’s in the college dorm decoration section at Target or a trending hashtag, you can pretty much bet that it will never leave my lips under any circumstances other than mockery and mourning for tomorrow’s generation. But for some reason, “grow where you’re planted” gets a pass in my mind. Let’s say you’re a baby Groot-sized oak tree at the edge of a field. But you don’t like being an oak tree. Those apple trees get all the attention because they’ve got fruit! And the edge of the field?!? Ugh, better not grow too much or you’ll brush up against the fence, right?
I’ve been feeling like a grumpy Groot lately. I look around at all the other
trees people my age and wonder why I don’t have a house like they do, or drive the cars they do, or why I have to work so much that my main form of conversation with my wife is over text message. And you know what all that discontentment has gotten me? Nowhere. Instead of being excited that we’ve paid down over $20,000 of debt without adding a single dime outside of interest, I’m mad that I can’t go out to restaurants every week like I used to. I get frustrated at our tiny apartment, even though it’s quiet, it’s safe, it’s super convenient to get anywhere from, and it’s comfortably in our budget. Instead of being humbled and grateful for the immense blessings we’ve been given over the past couple years, I’m too busy comparing what we have with what other people have to even notice them. And that, dear friends, is dangerous. Thinking like that robs you of the ability to live a full life, wherever you’ve been planted.
You Don’t Know the Whole Story
That friend that’s always posting the magazine-cover vacation pictures? How do you know they didn’t max out their credit cards to take that trip? The one with the brand-new sports car? How do you know it’s not only his because of the loss of the grandfather he was so close with? That couple with the perfect kids, and the perfect marriage, and the perfect hair? How do you know that they aren’t one counseling session away from divorce? I’m not saying any of those are true; perhaps everything is just how looks on the surface (though it rarely is), but the point is you don’t know. Personal finance is different for everyone. We all got to where we are through a set of circumstances that no one else will ever be able to 100% identify with, so to think that your life is somehow less complete than someone else’s simply based on your perception of them only opens the door to jealousy and bitterness. The cure? Allow yourself to genuinely be happy for a friend’s success without hypocrisy. Realize that just because they succeeded doesn’t mean you failed. And secretly thinking they only got to where they are by stupid decisions or dishonesty is wrong, too. Maybe they did. But just because they’re possibly setting themselves up for failure doesn’t mean you automatically succeed. It’s not a competition, and if you’re worried about what they’re doing, you’re worried about the wrong person. Focus on the only story you know from cover to cover: yours.
Don’t Mistake Aspiration for Arrogance
It’s not wrong to want to better yourself. It’s not wrong to work towards success. Where I think we get caught up is when we start rushing the timeline or thinking that someone else’s success needs to be our success. We think we need more, better, faster, and we get impatient when our definition of success doesn’t come when we think it should. That results in two problems. One, like I mentioned above, it blinds us to the victories we’ve already had. Even achieving milestones we previously thought were impossible can quickly become speed bumps, only getting in our way instead of encouraging us to press on. And two, sometimes our version of success doesn’t line up with God’s version. Look at Matthew 6 –
“Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? […] Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?”
Notice how Jesus says that God will feed and clothe us. He doesn’t say we’ll have steak dinners every night and wear some Italian dude’s name across our chest on every outfit. He says our needs will be met. Have we confused our needs and wants? Have we gotten so caught up in status symbols and net worth numbers that we’re ignoring things that will matter beyond our lifetime? I don’t want to get all Eeyore here or come off as some kind of pessimist, but our lives can change in an instant! What if you came home from work tonight to your wife holding a pair of baby booties and a pregnancy test? What if you got a phone call at lunch from your mother that started out, “Listen… Your dad’s not doing too well…?” You don’t think those things would change what you think you deserve, or even what you want? Let’s not get so caught up in the tunnel vision that comes with chasing our dreams that we don’t get to experience life along the way.
Refocus and Rejoice
Instead of always living for tomorrow, what if you hit pause for a minute and took in the sights around you? What if you started a gratitude journal, where every day, you write down three things you’re grateful for? Once you start focusing on what you’re thankful for, you begin to forget all the things you’re frustrated with. God has given us a wonderfully limited brain capacity, and we can only fill them with so much at a time. Choose to fill it with gratitude, and leave complaints behind. Not everyone can be President, or an astronaut, or the fastest runner on Earth (or Mars, if Elon Musk gets his way). But not everyone can be you, either. We’re only given one life, and we can’t choose where we’re born or the circumstances we’re born into. The only thing we can do is grow where we’re planted.
What about you? Have you ever gotten so bogged down with feeling like you can’t get out of your current situation that you forget to look back and see how far you’ve already come? How do you deal with feelings of jealousy, discontentment, or failure? Who is your favorite dancing tree, and why is it Groot?