“I’m going to look up the ‘If’ poem,” I told some co-workers. “It’s time to man up.”
I don’t know think they had a clue what I meant, but I knew Rudyard Kipling’s poem “If” as if I’d heard it quoted by a hundred middle school students individually, earnest for a good grade. Because I had — more than a decade ago. It may be one of the best assignments I’d ever given, because the poem quickly came to mind.
Kipling’s poem outlines a series of disappointing and devastating circumstances and then urges the reader, his son, to overcome each of these onslaughts with character. If his son manages this, then, the author concludes:
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!
I’d been covering for a co-worker’s multiple-month maternity leave (send her paycheck to me along with mine, please), when a new website design, specifically a recommended plug-in app for a booking calendar, turned my job into on-the-job-training.
The web design people signed off, my company’s IT guys plugged it in, and I made it work. Mostly. Though I struggled through coding and making the calendar look good and function correctly, a fix in one section typically meant a break in another — and an urgent email to Mr. IT. It was a new challenge every day. Between IT and me, we got the calendar to do what we needed, but it didn’t pass muster with the IT team. They equated the plugin to a canoe that was trying to be a houseboat or a cruise ship. It was doomed to fail.
That was when “If” came to mind, specifically this stanza:
If you can meet with Triumph and DisasterAnd treat those two impostors just the same;If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spokenTwisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:
Of course, I hadn’t given my life to this thing, but at that moment I felt as if I had. I felt like a worn-out tool and knew I’d set aside other work that was ominously piling up as I’d given my working hours to this thing. Instead of success, instead of a completed project and the ability to focus my efforts elsewhere, I saw a project broken and the fix (or the search for an alternative software) another lifetime of work hours to give. But I put on a brave face, told my colleagues I considered I was “just breaking up with a bad boyfriend” (and they understood what I meant), and began looking for something better. (Our company is unique, and our particular needs aren’t a fit for commercial off-the-shelf software.)
As it turned out, it wasn’t the only software I would give my life to only to watch one after another fail to pass muster with our team. In fact, software wasn’t even the only aspect of my life that would give me grief and cause me to consider the trials mentioned in Kipling’s poem.
But though these things I gave my workaday life to appeared broken at times, I was not broken. I am not broken. (I am also not a man, but I’m willing to look at Kipling’s poem as a campaign for character, and I consider character gender-free.)
After all, the Bible clearly urges us to accept trials and tribulations as routes to developing better character:
” And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us” (Romans 5:3-5).
I hope I am a better person for it all — and I wouldn’t mind if “the earth is mine and everything that’s in it” either. Regardless, I am thankful for Kipling’s encouragement to man up. 🙂