Years ago, when my father died, there was someone from our small town who anointed himself as the person to memorialize my dad. We wanted someone else, but he actually stepped forward and began speaking. We were all so shocked from the unexpected loss of my dad, that this was almost too much to comprehend. And so he just kept speaking. “David was only a butcher,” he said. “But he was a good man who took care of his family.”
I had to keep my brother from punching the man
Not that part of me didn’t want to join in. The guy didn’t even know us. But that’s another story. The main point is that he said “ONLY a butcher.” As if this were somehow not achieving success. Perhaps not success in his eyes or in the eyes of those who judge by the amount of money you have or the clothes you wear, but have no doubt my father was a success.
First, he survived the holocaust. No small thing. As did his brother and some close family. And they did it using their wits and their courage. And then, he started anew in this country, where he built a family. And, to begin, he held two jobs just to make ends meet. Something far too many people have to do even today. He became proficient as a hotel butcher, and went to work each day to make sure we were cared for. And he loved us dearly, even if we didn’t always understand each other.
Cultural differences made it hard at times, but when I needed him, he was there. He was there for all of us. And his job wasn’t easy. The racks of meat were heavy. The basement he worked in was dank. But he always had jokes to tell and small treats to bring us, even if we didn’t have much money. And most of all, he made sure he was there for us, right to the end.
What is real career success?
When people talk about success as the size of your house or bank account or number of pricey cars or your job title, I smile. It’s a measure that just doesn’t hold much weight in my eyes.
Did you live life based on your own values? Did you get to try things you wanted to try, whether they worked out or not. (The trying itself can be a success.) Did you show kindness to others? Did you do your best to support your family and friends where possible? Did you do things as best you could, giving your all (at least most of the time), and finding success wherever you are – as a sales clerk, as a truck driver, as a seamstress, as a teacher, as a manager, as an entrepreneur, as a garbage collector, as a programmer, as a nurse, as a secretary, as a doctor, as a department store greeter.
You can find joy and success in all of those jobs. Either in the job itself or in what it gives you and your family. For an unemployed person, just finding a job can be a huge success. No one needs to judge what kind of job it is if it gives them the dignity of a paycheck.
There’s also the element we bring to the task. I’ve known cashiers who love what they do; and I’ve known some that resent every minute of the day. Lord knows I’ve had jobs I hated. But I also know that most days I at least did my best to find some joy in that day – laughter, helping someone, finding something to take on I could enjoy, or just doing the zen thing of doing my very best at whatever I do.
Sometimes it’s as much how we handle things as the things themselves.
Have you ever had someone judge you based on their values? What’s your idea of career success?