I’ve recently discovered that I’m not a fan of the phrase, “Everything happens for a reason.” Not only is it cringe-worthy in both text and tatt form, it’s perhaps the most unhelpful way of cheering someone up. I’m sure the phrase originated from a place of love and good intention, but after years of abuse and whimsical iterations in wall art, I believe it has been reduced to a semi-PC way of telling someone that shit happens. And that their situation is in fact so shitty, that you honestly can’t think of anything else to say.
To be sure, I’m not knocking anyone who believes everything happens for a reason. Who am I to judge someone or something when I can’t see the bigger picture or what lies ahead? All I’m saying is that it’s become a blanket consolatory statement that’s used too often for too many kinds of situations, both trivial and life-changing. I know this because I have been both the deliverer and receiver of this message many, many times.
And yet, to further contradict myself, I must say that there is some truth to the general idea of the phrase. No, I’m not sold on the fact that every single thing happens for a reason, because there are far too many horrendous, devastating and inexplicable things that happen in this world; insinuating that there’s a specific reason behind every catastrophe and tragedy is both insensitive and impractical. But when you look at the phrase from a different perspective—from more of a doors-closing-windows-opening angle—it starts to look more like the whole “silver linings” idea. And that I can get behind.
I started to realize this a few years ago when I was mercilessly rejected from every single job I applied for. Looking back, I now see that emailing a Chicago ad agency a PowerPoint file for my “creative portfolio” was a bit of a stretch, but it felt appropriate at the time. For what it’s worth, I even included a disclaimer that read something like:
“No, I don’t have the tools or Adobe products I need right now, but give me a job or a Mac Lab and I’ll do these print ads again…but better.”
But other than that particular instance, I couldn’t understand why each and every company would reject me. I mean, wasn’t I a catch? My pet-sitting clients seemed to think so. As did my mom. What better references could you ask for?
I fell into a pretty dark hole for a while, one that consisted of Battlestar Galactica, a brief stint in the power-washing business, and many nights spent coercing my first love, Buster, to name me his favorite family member. At my lowest point, I began stuffing cat nip in my pillow to trick him into sleeping with me. I started house sitting more frequently and—in between useless job applications—poured myself into becoming one of Greater Louisville’s most prestigious pet-sitters. For a time, I considered taking it up professionally; I have an unusual connection with animals, and I am incredibly comfortable using other people’s expensive kitchen appliances and entertainment systems. Sure, it wouldn’t be the most lucrative career, but in the off seasons, I could pick up a side gig as a dog-walker. College tuition well-spent, indeed.
But as you might have guessed, tending to other people’s critters only fulfilled me for so long, and so I decided it was time to do something different. I decided to start documenting my post-grad progress (or lack thereof) so that rising college graduates would be better prepared for what was to come — a commencement speech ripe with ridiculous proverbs, promises and plugs for alumni donations, followed by a humiliating beating from the job market and a bed in your parents’ office. I wrote about moving back in with my mom and dad (and their bearded dragon, cat, rat, bird and meal worm colony), because I wanted people to stop calling my generation lazy and unmotivated. I wrote about all my crazy (often gruesome) adventures in pet-sitting, my forehead vein and my somewhat unsettling obsession with cats. I wrote about everything, and I came to realize that I loved it. And that I wanted to make a career out of it.
So what I’m trying to say is that being rejected from all those jobs was really, really painful. And scary, to be sure. But it also opened a lot of doors that I didn’t even know existed. It helped me rediscover my love of writing, and it led me to a lot of really amazing people and self-discoveries. I grew closer to my family, I fell in love, I stumbled into an awesome job and I got to be with Buster in his twilight years of life.
So no, I still don’t believe that every single thing happens for a reason. Instead, I think that—at least in my case—a shitty situation created new paths and new possibilities that I hadn’t otherwise considered. And that’s something I’ll try to remember in 2015.