Donald Rumsfeld said it best: “There are known knowns. These are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say, there are things that we know we don’t know. But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we don’t know we don’t know.”
A few months ago, my coworker and I were having a conversation over the fact that we were mutually in some surreal state of having realized we had that which we thought people like us could never find. That we weren’t able to conceive could exist prior. She wrote something to that end here: “There are things out there that are so good, it doesn’t even occur to us to wish for them.”
Essentially, she summed up that which may be the most beautiful sentiment and honest hope we have, even if we don’t know we have it: That the unknown is the darkest place, but the only place, that can breed the possibility of finding what is so great, it is beyond our comprehension. The way we believe our lives will turn out is usually a direct reflection of what we feel we’re worth, whether or not we’re conscious of that fact. For better and for worse, we usually don’t know the truth of it. That the gaps that fall between the people we lose and dreams that escape us are the places in which the things that are so good it doesn’t occur to us to wish for them find us.
There has never been a time that I didn’t think I had to work hard. I think that notion is a combination of how I was raised and who I innately am. My parents — and my father especially — were keen on me understanding that life owed me nothing. That I was not entitled. That I was not going to find my way because I somehow inherently deserved to.
I remember being young and watching as he would scribble on receipts for our dinners out, always tipping rather generously. His own mother had spent her life working tirelessly for the tips that got dinner on the table and raised a family. He’ll probably be unhappy that I’m sharing this because he also believes that honest acts of goodness and character aren’t the ones you get, or need, credit for (another testament to his character). Regardless, the sentiment that hard work elicits deserved results remained with me. That work ethic was a pillar of honest character, I also understood.
So work hard I did.
I worked so hard that I filled every moment and thought with certainty. I planned each day, anxiously awaited the next step in whatever I had devised, was definitive about my intentions and became relentlessly, passionately driven, even if only in my own mind. I will be someone, I’d tell myself, with crazed conviction. The more I believed it, the harder I worked.
I thought there was sole power in planning, in knowing, in effort. But alongside these seemingly lovely goals and dreams existed a deep sadness in me. A perpetually sustained sense of darkness that it would seem I was always prone to, always destined to slip in and out of. I had, at points, reached such unbearable lows you’d be unable to trace the “me” during the day, the me who had it together, to the “me” after hours, alone and reeling. I sank lower into this completely paradoxical human being. A walking conundrum, a friend once called me. Misunderstood because I was great at playing different parts. Lost in myself because I’d start forgetting which were real and which weren’t.
I was spending my life at war with myself, where the things I had convinced myself were right for me battled against that which was actually right for me. I stood too firmly in reason. I failed to acknowledge the larger, guiding whatever-the-hell that leads us all and has lead me here. I did not leave room for my life to expand beyond that which I thought I was worthy of. I say it often, I’ll say it again: I’m very grateful I never got what I thought I deserved. I’m more grateful that the things that were greater than what I could see for myself were stronger than my convictions otherwise. I’m most grateful I got the chance to learn at a young age that the deepest grace is knowing how to accept the things that aren’t meant for you.
Someday, you will be able to recall exact moments past, relationships lost, jobs left, opportunities missed, and realize that those misfortunes were the most crucial blessings. That whether or not you consciously, actively remain aware of it, something pulls at the sense that there is something else conspiring for us all. Someday you will be able to say that there have been things that you render miraculous in your mind for the sheer sake of once not believing you deserved them. Someday you will come to the crossing where these overlap. Someday you will realize that the worst happened and the best followed, and that turmoil doesn’t serve you for the sheer fact that things will work out on their own terms, regardless of how much we suffer from our own thoughts about them.