My parents were not the type that hovered. More like they stood off in the distance and waved as my Ship of Life set sail. Much later, I realized that the extreme hardships of their younger lives left them with little advice or guidance that might have helped me along the way. At seventeen, my father was on the docks as a stevedore until he could get seaman’s papers, and my mother was an orphan passed from relative to relative to boarding house. At one point or the other during the Depression, their lives had fallen into the abyss, and their only advice was what had worked for them; work hard and never give up. So my upbringing was in many ways not typical, but being that New York City had many in similar circumstances, it was not too unusual.
I eventually moved from New York City to coastal New England. I had close relationships with my first wife’s family for many of those years. They, too, were of the generation that believed in the dictum “work hard and never give up.” Their take on it was a more dour version but similar.
I heard the same thing from other sources as well. For example, a senior Chief Petty Officer explained life to me this way: If you are lucky, you grow up under the good offices of the Fairy Godmother Department. You are pampered. But sooner or later, especially in the military, you will likely be abruptly dumped in the School of Hard Knocks. So if you want to survive, you better learn how to tread water.
Despite the disconnect in the analogies, he was correct.
As I aged and moved from government employee to a business person, I learned that the skills and attitudes I had picked up from my parents and along the coast proved to be most salient in “Making It.”
Work hard, and don’t give up.
After having taught, guided employees, and watched the world around me, I’ve realized that not all have the tools needed for success once the carpet gets whisked from beneath your feet. Parents do indeed hover nowadays, schools do pamper, and employees are cushioned in relative luxury in some industries. Yet, so many do not have the essential tools needed for survival when things go sour. And at some point, they are likely to go sour, and hoping for the best will not be enough.
So when my kids asked me what was important in life, one of the examples I offered beyond being fair in your dealings was to work hard and not to give up.