By David Hegg
We’re all familiar with the old saying, “If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.” It is often used to remind us that most really important things in life come with adversity built in.
Personal trainers shout “no pain, no gain” while coaches insist that “when the going gets tough, the tough get going.” All these clichés serve to remind us that we live in a world where excellence and character come with a price.
Our problem today is that many are unwilling to pay the price, to accept the idea that adversity is part of living in our world. And maybe it really isn’t their fault. They’ve been raised to think that happiness is our right, that life is meant to be convenient and satisfying in all respects, and that any pain is to be avoided or at least immediately anesthetized.
But I believe adversity is both unavoidable and — shockingly — absolutely necessary and even profitable. As I have aged, I come to realize that many of the best things come at the expense of comfort. More to the point, times of suffering and disappointment, toil and opposition, the grueling necessity of painful perseverance, and even confession of our sinful behavior collectively shape our character, build our ability to delay gratification in order to accomplish great things, and generally wipe away that insidious sense of entitlement that apparently now comes pre-installed on the human hard drive.
Recently, I’ve had the opportunity to converse with an entrepreneur who has opened a new business in the past two years. He characterized his company as “grinding it out, day after day, trying to grow the business.” When I asked what his greatest obstacle was, he quickly said, “Finding people who want to work.” Turns out there are millions who want jobs but fewer and fewer who are willing to pay the sweat tax, give their best efforts, learn the ropes, and recognize that advancement comes on the other side of accomplishment.
Adversity also has the ability to bring out who we really are. When the heat is on, our true character comes out.
Years ago, I was sitting in an airport where an airline strike had greatly inconvenienced more than 8,000 people. I was amazed and saddened by how many people vented their frustrations at those poor airline employees who simply showed up for work at the ticket counters. Over the course of a few hours I watched adults become like third graders, complete with tears, tantrums and buckets of faulty logic. It was entertaining at some level but mostly I was embarrassed for those whose character was so shallow that a delay of a few hours completely incapacitated their civility and ability to persevere through even minor inconveniences.
In college I remember hearing a lecture by a guy who had built several companies into a successful financial services empire. I’m sure he said loads of important things about mission and values and creativity in the marketplace, but I don’t remember any of them. What I do remember is his insistence that our future success would depend on our present ability to build a high degree of personal discipline.
He put it this way. “Every day do something you really don’t want to do in order to train your will to be your slave and not your master.” I’ve never forgotten that and have followed his advice for many years.
So, my advice is to understand the power of the fire in your kitchen. The heat it produces might make you uncomfortable, but it also provides what is necessary to cook the food. Maybe it’s time to rephrase the cliché to say, “If you want to be a great chef, learn to love the fire.”
The best things in life are really never free nor easy, and maybe that’s what makes them the best.
David Hegg is senior pastor of Grace Baptist Church and a Santa Clarita resident.“Ethically Speaking” appears Sundays.