Posted by: susanideus | April 13, 2008

Making a Living – Is It Enough?

I recently reviewed a book about a woman who said she had worked in a field all her adult life and said she was there “accidentally”.  It was a difficult review to write since I truly disliked almost everything about it — the style, the grammatical errors, etc.  I found myself wondering, as I read about one disastrous job situation after another, why in the world this woman didn’t find something else to do.  She explained her actions as being necessary to making a living.

It suddenly hit me tonight that one of the reasons this book grated on my psyche so much was that it reminded me of me…

Like the author, I worked most of my adult life in a field not related to my college degree (Psychology) or to my dreams (being a counselor and a writer).  My first retail job was an after-school money maker while I was in high school.  I continued working at the same place through college as I could work around my class schedule.  When I finished my bachelor’s degree, I kept right on working there, my excuse being I might as well not look for anything else or go to graduate school since I knew we’d be moving when my husband came home from Vietnam.

And we kept moving.  So I worked in retail because we needed the money, the jobs were easy to get with my experience, and it was a field where much of the workforce was transitory.  I made a few attempts to go back to school for a Master’s degree but with a family and the constant moving, it seemed like one step forward and two back.  The dreams seemed further away and I guess I settled for expedient.

To be fair to myself, I should mention that I was very good at retail, moving up through the ranks to buyer and manager.  I managed to make a fair living.

There it is again — making a living…what does that mean?  For me, it brought in needed income and kept me from the hassle of serious job-hunting.  Maybe I wasn’t hungry enough.  Maybe I wasn’t confident enough.  Maybe I wasn’t in tune with myself deeply enough.  I know I wasn’t brave enough to give up all that another path through life would have demanded.

For years, a friend and I have traded comments about what we want to be “when we grow up”.  You know, I think I passed that threshold a long time ago. And, it’s the looking back and the realization that I’m near the end of my working life that has caused this angst.  That and the fact that I have once again “settled for” an expedient job which is totally unfulfilling.

Life is lived through a series of choices.  I made choices.  Here I am.  Would I have changed anything?  Looking back, maybe, but at the time, they all seemed to be the right choices for that point in time.  I even read somewhere that all the choices we make are the ones we need to make — to learn from them, to complete the process of becoming the unique being that each of us is.  If that’s true, maybe I haven’t learned what I needed to.  I just know I feel quite unsatisfied, unfinished, unfulfilled.  That sounds, even to me, somewhat harsh in light of the wonderful blessings I have in family and friends — they are truly my treasures.  Yet, when I look back at the hours I spent working, I wonder if I accomplished anything but earning money for that family.  I didn’t make an impact on lives, on my community, on my environment.  I feel that I should have. 

I always wanted to follow the precept of this passge from Colossians: “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men…” (Col 3:23 NIV)  I think I gave my best effort to all my jobs.  I believe that’s not just important but required of me as a professing Christian.  But I do wonder if I honored God’s creation, me, by being less than I could be?  (Bothers me a lot on my current job, as I don’t always give 100%.  No motivation and bad attitude — not good.)

Self-awareness has come late to me, maybe too late.  I have no answers for me.  But, I want to find a way to tell my daughters that they need to live and work their dreams, and not just make a living.  What kind of an example did I set for them all those years, working way too many hours at jobs I didn’t like? I wasn’t that good a mom to them, spending all my time and energy on those jobs.  I don’t want them to settle for that.

Making a living is just not enough.

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Responses

  1. Quote: “Yet, when I look back at the hours I spent working, I wonder if I accomplished anything but earning money for that family. I didn’t make an impact on lives, on my community, on my environment.”

    Never, ever think you didn’t make an impact on lives! Ask any of the girls who worked for you about the good example you set for them, both as employee and as a woman. Sitting here right now, I can count past my fingers how many girls (who are now women) who would likely say you had an impact on their lives! And that’s just in your adopted life as a retail manager–your presence in church and family adds much more.

    I’m learning that there’s usually a gap between the impact we intend to make and the impact we actually make. And most often, the actual impact is better than we ever imagined.

    Certainly, settling isn’t the aspiration we hope for, but I think you’re right in that sometimes it is where we might have been meant to be.

  2. “Yet, when I look back at the hours I spent working, I wonder if I accomplished anything but earning money for that family. I didn’t make an impact on lives, on my community, on my environment. I feel that I should have.”

    This is the impact you had on my life, it’s an excerpt from my personal essay, which was required as part of my application into the College of Education:

    Upon thinking of a profound learning experience in my life, my initial thought was to write about my father teaching me to read when I was four years old. It was a supremely liberating experience because I was no longer dependent on my siblings to read the Sunday comics to me. It was also the first step in my journey to being a teacher: from that experience grew my desire to learn more and share what I learned, which transitioned into a desire to teach. The experience was indeed profound, and though it set me on my life course, a more profound experience would present itself twenty years later.
    I applied for a sales position at a locally owned luggage store, and was hired by a woman named Susan Ideus. Her enthusiasm was infectious and she had a knack for creating excitement around the most mundane things. We developed a strong working relationship and before long, Susan was grooming me for management. I had not considered management; I simply wanted a low stress job while I was going to school. It started innocently enough; Susan would share with me sales results, strategic planning, buying and pricing strategies, and anecdotes about her previous retail experiences. In retrospect, I think Susan was trying to determine my level of interest in the business workings of the store. I would share with her some of my ideas about selling or we would discuss how to be more effective with customers, and I expressed interest in developing a training system for the store. When the owner decided to open another store, Susan convinced me to manage the new store.
    Opening and managing the new store was a terrific learning opportunity for me, and between Susan’s years of retail management experience and the owner’s business acumen, I learned quite a lot about business. More important, however, is what I learned from Susan. I worked with Susan for several years, and had the opportunity to watch her interact with customers and employees, and I reflected on how she interacted with me. She was genuine and present with every person she engaged. She asked questions to elicit information about what a customer needed, or what experience a new employee was bringing to the team. She particularly valued the experiences employees brought with them because she would then help them further advance their skills by building on an established foundation. She created a safe environment in which to work and learn, and both were fun because of her enthusiasm and interest for those around her and for her work.
    I adore my father, in many ways I strive to be like him, and I am forever grateful to him for giving me the gift of literacy, but I want to model how I teach after Susan’s example. I think it is essential to remember that our students come into the classroom with their own experiences, and it is our duty as educators to not only honor their experiences, but to also build on those experiences to create more meaningful learning moments for our students. Susan wanted to know what I knew, what interested me, and what my areas of opportunity were. She let me know that what I said and did was important, and she fostered my continued growth by reinforcing the value of my contributions or by caringly suggesting possible improvement. She adapted herself as necessary to the people around her so that she may better serve them, thusly creating a meaningful, genuine bond. These are the characteristics I aspire to model as an educator.


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