False Idols

Written by on May 21, 2018

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He shoots, and he scores!  Your sports team just lost in the playoffs on a last-second shot by the other team.  Your heart is crushed as your season is now over.  You had such high hopes and this was going to be the year you’d make it all the way.  Now all that’s left is to make dinner for the family on this depressing Sunday night and somehow manage to go to work tomorrow.  Not only will it be a Monday, but the pain and angst from yesterday’s loss will still be fresh in your mind. Why didn’t the defense do better?  What if we just played a little bit harder? Maybe if the coach gave a better halftime talk….

The Dirt:  Your team lost / Your company laid you off

OK buddy. first let’s get a few things straight.  Your team didn’t lose. That would be impossible unless you are actually on the team or you own the team.  Please take no offense if you’re a sports fan, but this is a key distinction that will guide our discussion here.  What if our incessant following and effective worshiping of others is keeping us from reaching our own greatness? Imagine what could happen if we take the dedication, discipline, energy, and commitment to others’ successes and apply just a fraction to our own lives, our family, and to the success that we desire.

“You are so smitten with the success of another person (who has no idea who you are nor would care to) that you would wear his or her name on your shoulders to garner an odd, unearned respect from others.  Who do you think you’re fooling Mr. Marino?”

The old testament is full of god’s wrath at the worshiping of false idols.  It brought about plagues, floods, and other travesties to try to cleanse the earth of these bad habits.  There was enough smiting for God to kill about 25 million people in our biblical history. It was so important that it was the first of the ten commandments.  Throughout history, humans have managed to disobey this primary law leading to much suffering and do that which the bible considers bad or evil, almost intentionally tempting fate.  To avoid getting into bible study, let’s secularize this concept.

In the modern day, both in and out of religion, we haven’t changed much.  We still pray to a host of false things. It’s just that our idols have evolved from golden calves to the more modern aspects of society.  We worship our job, our sports teams, our kids, and a myriad of other things over which we have no control. When the quality of your day depends on that which is outside of your day, is it any wonder why we end up on an exhausting emotional roller coaster?  What are we praying to?  Why are we praying to it?  Is it getting us anywhere?


Praying to our sports team

Let’s start with our favorite escape from reality, the sports team.  Our team makes us feel good when they win, and feel crappy when they lose.  Naturally, everyone likes a winner, so we do our best to protect ourselves from losing side.  Notice the language of a sports fan: “We won!” vs. “They lost”.  We are happy to be included in the winnings but will quickly distance ourselves from the losing.  Nonetheless, it drags us down because of the codependency we’ve created with another person’s enterprise.  You did know that all sports franchises are first and foremost businesses whose top purpose is to make money, right?  It’s called butts-in-seats and pay-per-view and it’s the real reason for winning.

From an early age, we build our unrequited love for the team.  So we go all out for them. We buy the merchandise, we set aside hours to watch the game, we may even drop several hundreds of dollars going to the event, painting our faces, and buying $15 beer.  What’s fascinating is the undying commitment to the team, even to the point of arguing angrily with fans from other teams, shirk important responsibilities in your own life, and even putting another person’s name on our back.  Please think about that last one for a moment. You are so smitten with the success of another person (who has no idea who you are nor would care to) that you would wear his or her name on your shoulders to garner an odd, unearned respect from others.  Who do you think you’re fooling Mr. Marino?

And when the team does win, you don’t get anything from it except for some good, though misplaced, feelings.  The trophies, rings, and money go to the ones who were on the field winning. You are just left with a reminder that you still have to go to work on Monday and they don’t.  After all, they don’t pay your bills and probably never will, so back to the grindstone and the long wait until next season. Just to top things off, the players that are paid about 1000x more than you (and thanks to you) often blow through their earnings so fast, it sickens you to imagine what you could have done with half that money.


Praying to our job

When we do end up at our job on Monday, we go about our day doing what we’re told to do and expecting to get paid at week’s end one way or another.  If that doesn’t sound pleasant enough, let’s clarify my last statement:

We show up to work wondering if the company is still there or if we still have a job.  We do what needs to be done, hoping we’re not “too noticed” and are left alone to focus on making it through another day without more stress.  We like our coworkers but secretly hope they perform slightly worse than us. Meanwhile, we pray that our boss is in a good mood and that a promotion or a pat on the back isn’t too far away, though we’d just accept not being downsized or outsourced.  For this privilege, we get to drive in traffic, physically spend time away from our family, and mentally distract ourselves when we do have time with them.

We’re told to have pride in our company and tow the line.  We often do so openly and sometimes even enjoy working extra hard to help the company have a bit more success.  We’ll give up more family time, take fewer vacations, and even come into work sick. There’s nothing wrong with this as long as we realize that it’s not our company, it’s our employer.  The difference here is about 238,900 miles.  When we get laid off from a job that was just renting us for a purpose, we often take it very hard and very personal, like we just lost a puppy.  Except we only lost something we never had. It’s not difficult to say goodbye to a rental car because we understand that it was temporary. Consider that according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average worker currently holds ten different jobs before age forty, and this number is projected to grow (2015)

In an age where safe-and-secure jobs have been almost obsoleted, our relentless commitment to our employer often far outweighs their commitment and obligation to us.  Of course, our income directly affects our ability to provide for our family, but shouldn’t this be even more reason to ensure we understand the relationship between us and our job?  By the way, they won’t tell you, but your boss has the same level of stress about their own job, if not more. I’m in no way suggesting to not have a job, just that if you are praying that it will take care of you, you’re prayers may not be enough to counter the inevitable.


Praying to our kids

They say that children are our future.  I couldn’t agree more. Those bundles of joy give us so much hope for a better tomorrow.  Beyond just our natural protective instincts, we offer a higher level support as we put much of our own hopes and dreams on our kids.  If only we can help them become the person we never could (or did). Don’t they deserve so much better than us?

So we give them our all…literally.  Every ounce of energy, endless attention, and as much money as we can conjure up.  We’ll even go so far as to go into debt, empty our retirement account, and fight with teachers to get them good grades.  It does beg the question, weren’t we kids at some point? Didn’t our parents have the same aspirations for us? Did all that sacrificing for us work?  A 2016 study by Equality-of-Opportunity Project showed that only about half of 30-year-old workers in America earn more than their parents did at the same age.  Perhaps it’s that old adage that kids’ ears are closed to what we say but their eyes are wide open to what we do. If we don’t win and instead pray that our kids do, why exactly wouldn’t they do the same with their kids?

Here is where the ultimate irony lays.  When we don’t set a positive example and expect our kids to do better, it really shouldn’t be a surprise when they don’t.  Why do you suppose that kids idolize sports and music stars? Why not idolize mommy and daddy? Perhaps it’s that the former are out there playing on the field and winning while the latter are on the sidelines cheering for others.  If you want your kids in their field of dreams, you might have to show them how to play by example.

What if instead of praying to all things around us for a successful life, we prayed for the strength, knowledge, and competence to become the person worthy of a great life?  

What if instead of hoping our boss takes favor on us, we look to our entrepreneurial spirit and created something of value that added to the world and to our own personally-controlled success and security?

What if instead of only rooting for others to win at their craft, we slapped our own name on our backs, and got to work to become the best version of ourselves, playing in our field of dreams?

What if instead of hoping our kids take all the things we did wrong and magically figure out how to do them right, we showed them the right way and not just told them, giving them an example of success to follow?

What if instead of living vicariously through the ultra successful, we use them to inspire us to our own greatness, knowing that if they can do it, then why can’t we?


The good news is that we do have what it takes to be successful.  That success is not just for other people and we’re not designed to stay on the sidelines and root for others.  We have a field of play and we can develop the skills to win on that field if we choose to do so. We don’t have to win at everything, just one thing.  That in itself leads to everything else.

“Let today be the day you give up who you’ve been for who you can become.”

-Hal Elrod

I appreciate you for spending time with me.  I challenge you to share this with 9 people who spend more energy rooting for the other team than their own.  It just might save their lives. I’ll be meeting you at the top, ‘cause the bottom’s getting a bit too crowded.

Josh Zepess



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