Kindness, Perseverance, and Gratitude

Tuppence a bag. You catch my reference?

Tuppence a bag. You catch my reference?

Immediately after I published yesterday’s blog post, the one in which I confessed to the Internet – and thus confessed to the entire Googleable world, irrevocably, and perhaps permanently – that I have been let go from five different jobs since I graduated from college in 2009, I panicked.

Not only was I too stupid to manage my career properly, I thought, but then I had to go and TELL people about it. How stupid is THAT?

For the rest of the evening, I waited for my friends and family to call and tell me what a big, dumb, regrettable mistake I had made.  But my phone never rang and the chidings never came.  Instead, I had conversations with friends through Facebook and in Real Life that helped me put my experience in perspective.  Over the next few days, I’ll post some of the things they taught me.

Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a harder battle.
— Plato

A friend from Italy – I’ll call him Luca – told me about his work history. Luca has worked since he was a teenager, even though his parents, a carpenter and a teacher, made enough to support the family.  He has an independent personality and wants to take care of himself. To accomplish that end, Luca has done all kinds of jobs to get by, and most of them really, really sucked. He often put in long, hard hours doing physical labor in “very, very unsafe” conditions as a construction worker. One job caused Luca to developed crippling tendonitis in his arms that kept him from his passion, playing music, for over a year until the injury healed. To add financial insult to bodily injury, many of his employers refused to pay him what they promised. The exceptionally poor job economy in the part of Italy where he is from – he says 80% of the people he knows are unemployed – encourages a grey job market where workers can’t always hold employers accountable.

This sounds incredibly frustrating. I’d expect someone in Luca’s position to grow bitter and quit trying to work, or perhaps sink into complacency and keep taking whatever work is easiest to find.  Just give up and make the best of it.

Never, ever ever ever ever give up.
— Winston Churchill

Instead, Luca took calculated steps to maneuver away from those dead-end jobs and create opportunities for himself in fields related to work he enjoys.  He practiced his instruments, performed with touring bands, recorded music projects for friends, and even started a small production company. He didn’t always get the exact results he wanted from his efforts. But he has made slow, steady progress in growing his skills and building his portfolio in musical performance and audio production. He’s making progress, and he isn’t giving up.

I admire Luca’s work ethic – he’s worked in tougher conditions than many people could handle – and the conscientious way he pursues his music career. But most of all, I appreciate the way he perseveres.  I think he’s going to succeed in building the life he wants because he won’t quit until he does.

No matter how bad things are, you can always make things worse.
— Randy Pausch, "The Last Lecture"

Listening to Luca talk about the work environment he experienced in Italy reminded me of an embarrassingly obvious truth: there are a lot of people who endure far greater hardships than Luca or I ever faced. Maybe they don’t have the same education, opportunity, connections, family, health, and finances that we have.  Maybe they just have had bad luck for a few days, months, or decades. Whatever the cause, they are everywhere, and their difficulties are innumerable. “Life is hard all over,” as I’ve heard someone say.

There's a reason why your mother reminded you about all the starving kids in Africa when you refused to eat your vegetables. When we internalize the idea that our struggles could be much worse, and probably are much worse for many other folks on earth, we free ourselves from unrealistic, idealized versions of what we thought our lives would be.  We can then realize that our own problems – such as being let go from a few jobs – probably aren’t really that big of a deal. Like Luca, we should remember to be kind to ourselves as well as others when life fails to meet our expectations. Just keep trying, no matter how hard it gets. Allow yourself to feel grateful for all that you have been given.