Lately there’s been so much in the news about the 99% and the 1%, and the story seems to go like this: the 1% are lucky, and it’s not fair. They don’t work very hard but they have a ton of money, and they should share it.
What if that’s actually not a fair representation of reality?
Now I know there are many business people who have grown rich through cronyism with Washington (and that is not real capitalism, by the way), but many businessmen and businesswomen are wealthy because they worked tremendously hard and sacrificed.
I’m not sure if doctors count in the 1%, but most people, I think, consider doctors worthy of the majority of their pay, because they know the work that went into becoming a doctor. My husband is a pediatrician and makes a very decent income (though he’s the lowest paid specialty), but he worked 120+ hour weeks for five years of his residency. He studied hard all through high school and university. He basically had no life until he was 30 (with the exception of marrying me, of course!). We had no vacations, no free time, no money, no house, no car. Today he may not work as many hours, but he routinely is called out of bed in the middle of the night for life-threatening emergencies, and still has to work the next day.
Somehow we tend to acknowledge that doctors work hard, because we can see the training and we see the crazy hours. But those who worked hard to start businesses often don’t get the credit that they deserve, too.
Now, I don’t want this to become a political discussion, because that’s not really my point. But here is what I do want us to realize: when we see someone who is successful, we sometimes assume they started that way and did nothing to earn it.
What we don’t see is all the hard work that goes in along the way.
And I firmly believe that it is exactly the same with marriage and family. I have a great marriage, but it did not start out great. At the FamilyLife Weekend to Remember marriage conference Keith and I spoke at recently, Keith told the story of humor columnist Dave Barry and the synchronized swimmers. At the time that synchronized swimming was being considered for an Olympic event, Dave Barry and one of the sports writers for the Miami Herald both wrote columns saying synchronized swimming was lame and wasn’t a real sport.
Someone from the synchronized swimming team read the column, and invited the two columnists to come to a practice. Being good sports they did. And they were shown how to put their legs in the air, and their arms in the air, and how to twirl, and it looked really easy. And so they tried it. And they sank like stones. The swimmers didn’t let them out of the pool until they agreed to write columns saying “synchronized swimming is really, really hard.”
Synchronized swimming looks easy, but what you don’t see is all the paddling that is going on below the surface of the water to keep everyone afloat. And I believe marriage is like that. A good marriage may look easy, and it’s tempting to say, “well, her marriage is only good because she has a great husband,”, or “if I had a guy like that, my marriage would be easy, too.”
But you don’t see all the paddling that is going on below the surface.
If I can switch gears for a moment, in 1998 Judith Harris wrote a book called The Nurture Assumption, where she looked at what really does influence a child’s values–nature or nurture? And she found it was the environment, but not the environment you would think. By the age of 11, children get their values and morals primarily from peers and teachers, and not parents. And that’s the way it stays.
When I first read that I felt really depressed. But then I realized: Harris was studying the 99%. She wasn’t studying the 1%. Yes, most people won’t pass on values to their kids. Yes, most people won’t have really satisfying marriages. Yes, most people won’t be tremendously successful in this life. That’s because most people run on default: they follow the culture, and they don’t really challenge assumptions.
But in business, that’s not what the 1% did. They took risks. They sacrificed. They gave up free time and partying and pleasure so they could get ahead. And now they are reaping the benefits. I think it’s the same with family.
We need to decide: do we want to be that 1%, that group that really does try, and that goes to extraordinary efforts, and that sacrifices a lot, so that we can reap tremendous benefits later?
Or will we be like the 99%, and live mediocre lives?
I don’t want a mediocre family. I don’t want a mediocre marriage. But I recognize that 1% marriages aren’t there by luck. They’re there because people are trying hard, and sacrificing hard, and praying hard. They’re in the 1% because those people have decided to act like 1%ers. Marriage takes hard work; but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible.
It took a lot of work for my marriage to get where we are today. I gave up my career goals. I gave up my education. I had to get over my pride and stop trying to win all fights. I had to deal with my emotional baggage–and I had a lot! I had to decide not to resent Keith when he just wasn’t home during the baby years and I was completely and utterly exhausted. I had to forgive him for hurting me before we were married. And there is so, so much more. And he had so much to forgive and adjust to, too. Neither of us is living the kind of life we dreamed we would live. But that’s because dreams change, and I’ve realized that my life now is better than if I hadn’t sacrificed. It’s better than if I had gone ahead and chosen the path I was supposed to.
That may sound like a big job, and it is. But here’s the good news:
Being in the 1% is not a matter of luck or chance.
It’s simply a matter of choice and of hard work. Of course, your husband needs to be on board, too, but you can start the ball rolling by changing yourself. Maybe you may never be in the top 1% economically–most of us won’t, and I’m not even sure if doctors qualify–but anyone, regardless of income level, can be in the 1% when it comes to family, which is what’s really important. Marriage takes hard work–so put in the work.
Over the next few years I’m going to have to sacrifice and hurt some more as I watch my kids grow up. But I will do that, because I want to be in the 1%. And that takes work, and perseverence, and prayer. It isn’t easy, but it isn’t chance, either. Which group do you want to be in?