Kipling’s ‘If’: more than a list of adulting tips

Dive into Kipling’s “If” through a laundry lens: a humorous reflection on life’s curveballs, mismatched socks, and timeless wisdom.

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:
If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;
If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted 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:
If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’
If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!

Rudyard Kipling

Kipling’s “If”—it’s one of those poems that finds you at just the right moment. And sometimes, it finds you while you’re knee-deep in laundry, pondering if you should wear that shirt with the minor deodorant stain to your son’s “Spring Sing”. (It’s a tiny stain, after all.)

So, there I sat on my laundry mountain, cross-legged and profoundly introspective, mulling over Kipling’s wisdom. The poem, in essence, is a grocery list of adulting tips. You know the sort: Keep your head when everyone else is losing theirs, wait without getting twitchy, and don’t get too chummy with kings or the common folk. All great advice, even if the closest I’ve come to royalty is binge-watching The Crown.

Yet, between the lines, Kipling is gently nudging us to embrace our most authentic selves. To cultivate resilience, humility, patience, and integrity. He says, in far more poetic language, “Life is going to throw you curveballs, or in my case, a buffering video during a pivotal scene. But if you can juggle them all, you’re golden.”

I especially love the bit where he says to treat Triumph and Disaster just the same. I like to think he’s talking about those days when you effortlessly parallel park in front of your judgmental neighbor, and then other days when you spill spaghetti sauce on your favorite white shirt. Life’s highs and lows, am I right?

Kipling, in all his profound wisdom, is essentially reminding us that life isn’t a sprint; it’s a marathon of awkward dinner conversations, forgotten birthdays, and miraculous little moments of joy. Like when the radio plays your favorite old song just as you’re stuck in traffic.

So, the next time you’re sifting through life’s messy drawer of oddities, wondering if you’re doing it all “right,” pull out Kipling’s “If.” Give it a read. Then remember: We’re all just trying our best, juggling triumphs, disasters, and occasionally, a rogue deodorant stain.

And if you can keep that perspective, “Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it.”