Goldilocks.

The story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears has intrigued me yet again. We all know the tale: girl wanders into abandoned home, finds mixed success in enjoyment of their comforts, becomes most satisfied in the moderate middle-ground of the youngest bear.

tl;dr Goldilocks, Ecclesiastes, and Zappos. Being stuck in the middle isn’t a great place to be, even though we really love that place in our culture. Do we know how to progress steadily, or will the constant din of shoe-swapping, bed-hopping, and taste-testing wear us out?

I can’t recall getting into this story when I was younger. Perhaps I was unsure of the overall premise and message; not to mention being generally confused by the strange psychological undertones therein. It just doesn’t line up unless you trust Goldilocks to become a housekeeper of her own later in life.

…which is exactly what I have in mind.

Frankly, I find this story to be a bit baffling. Why do we care that she’s found her way in moderation? Why do we see her intruding into someone’s home? Why use bears, anyhow? I’m not convinced that we need all of these answers to find purpose in the story, but someone has some explaining to do.

The mystifying part of the fairy tale (a view I share with several others) has to do with the emphasis on “trying out” different things until you find something that you like. Without dipping into the very gloomy well of hyper-consumerism, there isn’t much in the way of application in the actions of our golden-haired girl.

…except the very essence of how we make decisions.

Being stuck in the middle can make it rough on the people around you. Beyond that, your heavy diet of moderation makes it tough to live with the extremes you WILL encounter. The ones you’ll have to live with, in your home, with your porridge.

I don’t think any of us would argue whether or not we need to try things out. It’s essential that we attempt new things, that the cost of making mistakes would rarely be understood as dire or ultimate. We need to get out and explore, practice bending our minds around various problems, working toward solutions. (Note: As a Christian, I believe a lot of that work has been done for us through the many illustrations of Scripture. I’ll address that another time.)

Our culture is currently faced with a two-headed epidemic: we’re trying to grow up either too fast or too slow. We want adults to be free and act like kids until they’re at least 30, while steadily pushing the expected age of social and physical maturity toward the younger generations. We load up our youngsters with stressful pressures of adulthood, then revert to being more care-free later in life. This ultimately results in “illustrated irresponsibility.” I’m not saying kids should play all day, because I believe they ought to learn how to work at a young age; I just don’t like seeing the cover of Seventeen boast reviews of 320 swimsuits for “Looking sexy in a bikini!”

Seventeen. Did I miss something?

Moderation won’t solve this problem, as it generally locks us into a cycle of repeated problem-solving methods ending in frustration. We need to find solace and purpose in the stage of life we’re in right now, without turning to try-until-you-like-then-return-it-if-you-change-your-mind. We need to learn how to make educated mistakes, and how to live with them.

Zappos

I love Zappos. Brilliant execution of core company values that sustain over time. Their shipping policy worries me, however. (I know, I know, just bear with me.)

With the service that Zappos provides us, we learn that it’s okay, even preferable, to keep trying things until we find a perfect fit for our needs. Why does this matter? One example is that in an age where everyone wants to believe they can have a dream job, there still is a lot of gritty manual labor that needs to be done. That manual labor may look like you working at McDonalds until you can start your own business, or, like me, it may mean struggling through failed attempts and running out of money several times.

You simply can’t substitute hard work and experience over time. That doesn’t mean trying new things on over and over, nor does it point to trying different porridge until something tastes right. Sometimes you have to search for a long time before you find something that works, but you have to be willing to work in order to get there. Maybe we need less choices.

What we don’t learn from Zappos or Goldilocks?

Extremes will be there each step of the way; everything happens in due season. Everyone, myself included, spends time looking to exchange their problems for those of someone else. That doesn’t make ends meet, it doesn’t teach good problem solving, and it certainly won’t make the problems you have NOW any easier to deal with. Working hard and picking a direction is a life-long skill. It’s something we have to re-learn every day.

Making it Personal

Right now, I’m spending a lot of time “Cranking.” This means that I’m spending a lot of time working on small projects, trying to establish a route to the future through lots of hard, repetitive work. Before the beginning of the year, I thought I had been well on my way to accomplishing this task for a long time. Upon closer inspection…I found that I was just turning a wheel. There had to be preparation and time to figure out what was coming next, but it also needed purpose. That meant doing stuff for a reason, not just feeling as though I should keep a dozen balls in the air because it made me feel grown up. I had a lot going on; that made me big and tall, right?

…right?

As we grow older, our priorities change. I would certainly hope that our responsibilities changed with those new priorities. There’s something neat about forward motion, about having a course set; that desire for change might kick in, but simple hard work for a known goal goes a long way. That endures longer than getting the best porridge, and it’s way more comfortable than your perfect pair of shoes. The best stories are things that have already happened – you just have to figure out how to tell them to everyone.

Story Time

Let me tell you a different version of Goldilocks. This is a bit more believable than our bumbling-blonde-bear-burglarizing-beauty.

Once, there was a girl. She was making her way through the channels of life, attempting to grow and learn wherever possible. She was dedicated, driven, and often discouraged by Ecclesiastes (until the last two verses).

She had to start foraging at a young age, growing up juuuuuust enough to help take care of younger ones around her. This looked like going out and doing work that should have been years in the making. This meant being relied upon in ways that weren’t meant for young girls. There were some days when it helped fulfill that God-given desire to have a family of her own, but it mostly just made her feel empty inside.

But hey, this is a heroine, right? If this were a movie, our protagonist would be seen climbing hills, scraping her hands, trying to be diligent and confident, even when she feels like breaking down. She didn’t go off in search of the perfect porridge; she kept learning, earning, and caring for her family. She kept side projects “in the works” that delivered temporary satisfaction for her desire to be…more. It wasn’t time to be more, though. It was time to do some cranking.

This is the part where our heroine learns to pick between two things and stick with one of them. She knows what is at stake, so she tries to get a few steps further each day. She’s pushing on toward a goal, hoping that it means she’s on her way to be the best she was created to be. We don’t know if she finds love or saves the day, because it’s not time for that yet. It’s time to work.

Not knowing an ending usually gets cut from the movie.

That girl didn’t get to try a bunch of bowls before she began to eat. She didn’t get to sit in different chairs or sleep in different beds, testing for softness. She didn’t get to see which shoes she liked best. “Moderation” looked like the work/life balance of doing lots of work, and thus experiencing much of life. There couldn’t be a smaller portion, because it wouldn’t put food on the table. There couldn’t be a larger portion, because it wouldn’t have been within reach.

Our heroine learned how to take care of people, but it could never do the full job, because it came too soon, without training. She grew up too fast. This is the other end of moderation: hard work and experience can come at a higher price than we understand at the time.

The Back Cover

When you find yourself stuck in one way of thinking, trying to pick which route to take, working on making a decision that might hopefully get you pointed in the possible right direction of something that may plausibly help…

…it’s time to stop trying on new shoes.

Don’t wait for the perfect setting, because it won’t come. The shoe never fits perfectly; that’s why we spend time learning and growing at a steady pace. You need those extremes to help you find out what really matters, but you also need people around you to help you learn. You need to make some hard choices and live with them, but also know that there are probably much worse things to be scared of in life.

I’m guessing that the peril of those bears coming home meant a lot more to Goldilocks than the temperature of the porridge. Perspective comes with experience.

Maybe it’s time to do more with the shoes you have, then look around and see what you can trade. There may be leftovers to spare, and even others to share them with, if you’re okay with not getting juuuuuust the right amount. Are you learning lessons through your mistakes, or does your constant din of shoe-swapping, bed-hopping, and taste-testing make it all worth it? What are you left with when the bears come home?

Christians: We’re told to progress steadily in our Sanctification (2 Thess. 1:3-4), mature in the way we handle the building blocks of our faith (Heb. 6:1-2), not have our youth despised – be an example (1 Tim. 4:12), reach for new understandings (Phil. 3:12), have faith like children (Mark 10:15), and learn from our elders (Prov. 4:1). Please, stop looking for the perfect mixture of ingredients for your “food” and consume the Word.

I hope you will know success if you taste it; I also hope you’re willing to wear those old shoes juuuuuust a bit longer. You’ll get a new pair when you’ve had time to grow out of those old ones.