…is a terrible saying.
I don’t like it. I don’t like what it implies or how people use it, usually after someone has gone through something horrible. I don’t think telling anyone who’s just gone through a breakup, or lost someone close to them, or been hurt, that “Everything happens for a reason” is appropriate. At all.
However, it’s a saying I use for myself. When bad things happen to me, even though I don’t want to hear that phrase from anyone else, I’ll say it to myself. Internally, in my head. Really, what I’m telling myself is, “Eventually, you will learn from this.” But occasionally, something bad happens and, days or weeks or months or years later, I’ll be glad that it happened, because it led to something else in my life.
Quick example: one of my first jobs was working as an omelet chef at a chain buffet-style restaurant. I hated it. I had to wear an awful, ill-fitting uniform (that no one else had to wear, just me) and work in a stifling hot bakery area. I made ready-to-order omelets for people at 7 in the morning on weekends when I would have rather been sleeping in. And making ready-to-order omelets for people who want 6-7 items in their omelet was terrible. On the side, when I wasn’t making omelets, I assisted the baker by prepping cakes and cookies and brownies and by frosting cakes, which wasn’t SO terrible.
Years later, in college, I applied for an internship with a publishing company. I put the restaurant on my resumé and “cake decorator” as one of my job titles. (I didn’t have a real job title there anyway.) When I got an interview at the publishing company, one of the first questions was, “You really decorated cakes?”
That little tidbit had caught their interest. Even though it had NOTHING to do with publishing. So I was grateful, in that moment, and when I was eventually hired as an intern for the company, that I’d spent five months sweating into my horrible uniform and overstuffing omelets.
I’m thinking about this phrase this week because of something that happened recently. In short, I lost my garage door opener. In long:
I ride a bike to work. And I keep my bike in our garage, which is nice. So I use the garage door opener to open the garage in the morning, when I leave, and in the evening, when I return home. I started storing it in my hoodie pocket so I’d have easy access to it and not have to get off my bike.
One day, however, I wore a pocket-less hoodie to work. Luckily, my garage door opener has a clip on it, so I was able to clip it to the neckline on my hoodie. Still easy access. When I rolled into work, everyone gave me strange looks.
“Is that a garage door opener?” my co-workers asked, pointing at my neck.
I then explained the easy-access thing.
“It looks weird.”
I had to admit that it did.
For the rest of the day, I got some grief. Some ribbing. Nothing I can’t handle, but I thought to myself, “What a hassle.” So the next day, I wore a hoodie with pockets. But this hoodie was different from the other two. It had shallow pockets since it was a zip-up hoodie. To save myself the minor ribbing from co-workers, I put the garage door opener in my pocket and rode to work.
It was still there when I got to work, and when I put away my bike. We had pizza for lunch, and I had to go pick it up, using my co-worker’s car. Overall, it was a good day! No ribbing, pizza, and I got to drive a car. All good in my book.
That evening, Portland was unseasonably warm. And, considering my bike ride home is almost entirely uphill, I was overheated. I unzipped my hoodie, forgetting that I’d shoved a garage door opener in the shallow pockets. The sides of the sweatshirts flapped behind me as pumped the pedals. The breeze felt great.
Until I got to my apartment complex, reached into my pocket, and realized my garage door opener was gone.
I was so mad at myself. Clearly, it had fallen out of my pocket on my ride home because I’d been stupid enough to put it in the shallow pockets of my hoodie. I’d even thought to myself, as I was leaving that morning, that I should clip it to my neckline, but to avoid people at work pointing it out, I’d ignored that thought. GREAT.
For the next three weeks, I had to open my garage by leaving my bike unattended outside of it, going through the laundry room, entering my garage through the back door, and hitting the button inside that made the door slide up. It was an extra 30 seconds of my day, but it was a HASSLE. And when I left in the mornings, I had to close the garage door from the inside and then run underneath it before it closed. (It closes slowly. But I still hate doing it!)
I tried to tell myself that I had lost that garage door opener for a reason. But I couldn’t figure out the reason! It wasn’t to teach me a lesson. If it was, it was a harsh lesson that I didn’t like. And it wasn’t to make me talk to apartment management, because I wasn’t going to talk to them over something so small that I probably would have to pay for. I kept replaying the day over and over in my head, and I came to a conclusion: if I hadn’t been so embarrassed about clipping the garage door opener to my neckline, I would still have the darn thing. I was certain.
But then, why did THAT happen? Why did I wear my garage door opener to work that one day? WHY did I get teased about it? I couldn’t answer. There was no answer. I began to move on. Life without the garage door opener was a hassle, but it wasn’t worth being upset over.
On Monday this week, I did my usual morning routine. Ran under the garage door. Biked to work (mostly downhill). As I pulled up to the sidewalk outside my office, I saw one of my co-workers getting out of her car, so I waved. She waved back, and I saw, in her hand, a familiar object.
My garage door opener.
“You found it!” I squealed.
“It was in my car!” she said.
And I remembered, for the first time in weeks, that I’d used her car to go pick up pizza the same day I’d lost my garage door opener. It hadn’t fallen out on the street at all. It’d fallen out while I was driving!
And then, something amazing happened. Something that reaffirmed what I’d tried to tell myself the previous three weeks.
She said, “I wouldn’t have known it was yours if I hadn’t seen you wearing it that one day.”
Everything happens for a reason. If I hadn’t worn the garage door opener on my hoodie the day before losing it, I still would have lost it. But my co-worker wouldn’t have known what it was, or whose it was.
Amazing, isn’t it?
I’ll still never say “Everything happens for a reason” to anyone else. But it works for me.