You Get What You Deserve?



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You Get What You Deserve?
By Amanda Kabak • Issue #2 • View online

Funny how that always sounds negative. Getting what you deserve means you’ve gone and asked for it, been a troublemaker, did something that is just begging for punishment. But what if you deserve success? Happiness? A chocolate chip cookie (vegan, please)? There are at least two sides to everything, and this is no exception. But, really, the idea of deserving something, *earning* something can quickly become troublesome. It’s a very Western, capitalistic concept that puts the onus of success and failure (earning or not being deserving of) squarely on the individual without acknowledging the complex web of forces we all operate within.
Plenty of people have success we see as unearned, and plenty of people have worked themselves silly for very little reward. In fact, viewing your life as transactional in this way is bound to lead to disappointment because it keeps us caught up in an illusion of control that doesn’t exist. We cannot fully control whether we get the promotion we want or the partner we long for or the public recognition we crave. Because of this, if we tie our happiness to getting what we think we deserve, we’re in for a world of hurt.
I grew up in a very achievement-oriented atmosphere spiced with a Puritanical work ethic (all right, Jewish work ethic, but they’re pretty indistinguishable, especially around academics), and I was rewarded for how my studious temperament enhanced my natural talents. I placed into advanced classes and earned a valuable scholarship and have had a decent career progression–at least in my technical career. But writing has been something different.
Writing has illustrated the disconnection between effort and reward and broken open the very idea of success. Writing has taught me to look inward for my rewards and to value the process and work for itself and not for what I may (or most likely may not) “get” from it. Writing, and especially publishing, is wildly subjective and largely out of my control, which is very much the opposite of technology. Much of what I work with in my day job consists of complicated but deterministic logic, where there is right and wrong and an enviable feedback loop with metrics and hard measurements of quality and reliability.
Life is not bits and bytes, no matter how much we click and swipe these days. Life is challenging and often unfair, and it is up to us to find lightness and joy within ourselves but also to help where we can to tip the scales for others who do, in fact, deserve much more than they’ve gotten. If you’re interested in leveling the playing field through literacy, here are two of my favorite related charities:
Children's Literacy Initiative - Investing in Teachers, Improving Early Literacy - Children's Literacy Initiative
I was fortunate enough to be able to work on final edits for my upcoming romance while visiting Chicago (where the book is set) just a couple weeks ago. I thought you all might be interested in a short excerpt to tide you over until the real thing comes out in just a few months now.
In the dressing room, she sat on the blond wood bench in front of an open locker and bent to untie the double-knots on her work shoes: chunky brown oxfords. She kept her eyes down while she pulled them off, seeing, in her peripheral vision, two women crossing the open aisle in front of her, one from the outside and one from the showers, wrapped in a towel, her hair turbaned in white terry cloth, and her feet bare. Charlie knew the kind of attention she garnered in locker rooms and public toilets; it ran the gamut from curiosity at its mildest through suspicion all the way to downright hostility.
“Charlie” wasn’t just less of a mouthful than Charlene Josephine. It suited everything about her. She’d grown up a tomboy—overalls and a whining desire for short hair—matured into a serious jock, and now, well past adolescence and knee-deep into full adulthood, she was, no mistake about it, a dyke. She was tall and just this side of flat chested. She’d won the short hair battle with her mom at an early age and had never looked back. Now she wore it buzzed short except for a blond shock at the top that she shoved over to one side or the other, depending on the day. People either thought she was in the wrong place (as if a man wouldn’t notice the distinct lack of urinals in a women’s bathroom) or was contagious or recruiting for the cause. Ridiculous, but true.
Regardless, when her head emerged from the old college T-shirt she kept in this gym bag, the towel woman was staring at her. Charlie looked away, pulled out shoes and socks, and busied herself putting them on. The whole time, she felt a heaviness to the air, as if the woman’s gaze turned the electrons between them into something weighty and slow. Since Charlie assumed the intent behind this attention was negative, she hurried to tie her shoes, shove her work clothes and bag into the locker, and close it with a spin of the combination dial. That little burst of adrenaline propelled her onto the treadmill and into a brisk jog, her long shorts swishing around her legs.
The pounding of her stride was the opposite of calming, and the sluggish thump of her heart felt as uncomfortable as trying to come up with pithy conversation over a beer at 3 Greens by work. It was too much, too hard, too aggressively alive in the here and now given her current state. It made her a little queasy, and she felt suddenly like crying. This was a terrible idea. She would come out of this funk without such violent intervention eventually, right? A few more days or weeks on the couch, and she’d be fine.
While she cataloged the horribleness of this activity, her legs started to work through the kinks of her recent lassitude. Her stride lengthened and footfalls softened. Her mind still churned at this continued slap in the face, but her breathing settled into a strong rhythm. The word “indignity” kept floating through her mind, a mantra of revolt against this movement when all she wanted to do was be still and quiet.
Just twenty minutes, she told herself. Exercise wasn’t a miracle cure for her depressive episodes, and it would only help if she did it long enough to break a sweat. Twenty minutes and she could take a long hot shower and still have time to catch a couple episodes of Law & Order. Twenty minutes and she could try again tomorrow, when maybe it wouldn’t be quite as hard.
Yes, that's Chicago in the background!
Yes, that's Chicago in the background!
The universe works in funny ways, and I was already thinking about earning, deserving, and success when I started reading Breakthrough by Todd Mitchell, a classmate of mine when I was at my very achievement-oriented high school. In it, Todd digs into the success myth, the comparison game, and how our egos hold us back from our greatest creative potential. He talks about living through happiness instead of for happiness, and his words resonated very powerfully with me. My greatest achievement has been in identifying and succumbing to my desire to elevate what I call a “difficult happiness” to a primary position in my life. This difficult happiness comes from working hard at something that is important to you and finding meaning in all the ups and downs inherent in that sort of intense commitment.
If you want to devote yourself to something creative but have felt yourself holding back for whatever reason, Breakthrough is a very approachable and thorough guide to … breaking through your resistance.
Happy holidays, and here’s to a 2022 that maybe, just maybe, will look a little different from the past couple years.
Did you enjoy this issue?
Amanda Kabak

Writer of software and literature - Novels: UPENDED and THE MATHEMATICS OF CHANGE. Denizen of the in-between. In ardent pursuit of making an impact.

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