Just before I left the nail salon after getting long-awaited pedicures with my visiting daughter, I flipped through a pile of magazines at the dryer and caught this Cosmopolitan headline: ”You Deserve Great Sex.”
It wasn’t the sex part that gave me pause; that’s typical Cosmo (a magazine I always check to assure is hidden from inquisitive young eyes in the grocery store checkout line). It was the first two words—You Deserve—that sent my mind spinning, because it was about the fourth time in the past week that I’ve seen those words on something aimed at women. They’re everywhere: magazine covers, Pinterest boards, Instagram posts, billboards, product packaging, and interrupting Carrie Underwood on my radio.
According to pretty much every advertiser in the world, we “deserve” everything we’ve ever wanted, thought we needed, or have been told by others that we need or should want. And it is their number one job to remind us that we haven’t gotten all of those wonderful things yet. Thousands of people are paid good money just to make sure that message sinks into our very soul so deeply that we can’t help but act on it.
Oh, how I get caught up in that.
I love clothes and makeup and jewelry, so naturally I love fashion magazines. I don’t buy them, though, because my Ulta, Target, and Nordstrom’s shopping lists would each be 50 items long. But at places like the salon, or relaxing with coffee at Barnes & Noble, they’re the first ones I reach for. That new mascara that will make my skimpy lashes an inch long? On the list! It doesn’t matter that the lashes in the picture are fake and took three makeup artists an hour to make them look perfect on an 18-year-old model that already has her own set of long lashes. It doesn’t even matter that I know all of that…
And that pair of jeans that are just right, skinny-but-not-skin-tight, perfectly rolled up and have just the right amount of shredding… With those cute little wedges that are the perfect height and a color that goes with everything? MUST. HAVE. Because, of course, I’ll look just like the model.
The car with the bigger navigation screen for my aging eyes, the newest iPhone, the designer handbag that my girlfriend found for only $450 instead of it’s original price of $950? I want those.
The “deserve” message even presses into my non-material desires. A billboard with a man holding a wrench can remind me that I wish my husband loved home projects like my neighbor’s does, so that my sink drain doesn’t stay broken and held open with a hair clip for five weeks and so there’s never a spec of dirt in the bottom of the pool… That I had my best friend’s travel budget… That I could teach the things I’m passionate about in a way that filled auditoriums… That I would have the grit and grace of some of the women I admire—and write as well as some of the women I admire.
Thousands of people are paid good money just to make sure that message sinks into our very soul so deeply that we can’t help but act on it.
I pine for those things because somewhere along the way I’ve allowed myself to believe I “deserve” them. Hey, I’ve worked hard! Paid my dues! Others have them, why shouldn’t I?
But the more deeply I think I’m deserving, the more I think “poor me.” I’ve been short-changed. Gypped. Unfairly forgotten while everyone else around me is scooping up what should rightfully have my name on it, too.
And I forget what I already have.
All the people. All the possessions. All the blessings.
“I deserve” is the perfect antidote to gratitude. How can I possibly be thankful for what I have when I’m focused on what I don’t have?
A lack of gratitude is what keeps me in debt. If I seek after everything I think I deserve, whether it’s a different mascara or handyman passion in my husband, I will find myself out of money, empty of self-worth, void of gratitude, and, instead, a bundle of stress and bitterness.
Pinterest is notorious for making women believe they deserve all kinds of things. Here’s one of my favorites: “You deserve to be with somebody who makes you happy. Somebody who doesn’t complicate your life. Somebody who won’t hurt you.” Ladies, this is impossible to find in our imperfect world! You can’t promise that to anyone, and no one can promise it to you. Even the most kind and selfless people in the world are at some point going to prove this impossible, because we are all broken and faulty and mistake-makers and people-hurters.
Or how about: “Never settle for less than what you deserve.” If we believe that, our list will be endless, and no thing or situation or person will ever satisfy us. Not ever.
After seeing the Cosmo headline, I decided to start an experiment: every time I see the word “deserve” I’m going to trade it for “I’m grateful.”
“You deserve this mascara” becomes “I have eyes that work, I’m grateful that I can put on one of the four tubes of mascara that are already in my makeup drawer.”
“You deserve to travel more” becomes “I’m grateful that I have a passion to see the world” and use it as a reminder to become more serious about my vacation fund.
“You deserve the best” becomes “I will try my best: I’m thankful for the health and ability to do so many things.”
And when I can’t make a direct translation, I’m just going to make a short little gratitude list in my head to recalibrate my thinking. “You deserve to be happy” might remind me that I’m not particularly happy today, but there are so many things I can be grateful for.
Actually, as I think about it, I realize that short little list will likely become a long one in about two minutes.
And so will yours.
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