‘If I tell you what I need …’
I spent one summer in northern New Jersey during my college years, when my parents lived there. I volunteered for a week at a summer camp for disabled people, taking care of a man in his 50s with cerebral palsy. I brushed his teeth and shaved him, cut his food into bite-size pieces and helped him get around in his wheelchair. I don’t remember his name.
During our first evening together, we had a get-to-know-you chat. “If I don’t tell you what I need you to do, my needs won’t be met,” he told me in his slurred speech. “If I tell you what I need and you don’t do it, my needs won’t be met.
“But if I tell you what I need and you do what I say, we’ll get along just fine.”
I’ve never forgotten that. We had a wonderful week together.
(Little did I realize that 35 years later, I’d be getting paid to do very similar things. That advice still applies.)
The right type
In 11th grade I took a typing class. I was the second-fastest typist in the class, and the fastest guy. A few years ago I applied for a job that required a typing test. I reached 63 words per minute.
I’ll never be a stenographer, but that skill has served me well over the years.
In fifth grade, I had a friend named Jeff. I don’t remember the context, but one day he blurted out, “I love all people.”
Light bulbs popped inside my heart. He was on to something.
It didn’t work out
One job I had lasted eight weeks, with a business-to-business marketing firm. Early on I was assigned a project for our biggest client. I wanted to know how the client planned to use the piece I would design; I figured I could do a better job with the project if I understood its purpose.
My boss called me into the conference room and told me never to ask that question again. What the client did with the piece is none of our business. Since we billed by the hour, if the client wanted us to revise it later, use it as is or throw it away, we would bill accordingly, and that’s all that mattered.
I was done. Two weeks into the job, my creative spirit was crushed. I lasted six more weeks on insignificant projects, then was let go.
A year or two later the company, more than 30 years old, folded.
I did not celebrate when the company closed. Good people lost jobs, people I still occasionally keep in contact with. We all moved on.
That job wasn’t the right fit for me. It happens. Not their fault, not my fault. I learned some things about myself there.
Finding loyalty and affection
Growing up, we had a dog. In married life, we’ve had cats. We have two now, a brother and sister.
Butterscotch and Punkin greet me when I wake up in the morning, and when I come home from work. They like attention. They like being petted, and Butterscotch rolls onto his back and likes me to scratch his belly, like a dog would.
Dogs and cats are loyal, affectionate and loving. Their love is simple and uncomplicated, unlike human love – in every way. Perhaps that’s why so many of us enjoy pets. They don’t judge. They respond to affection with affection (most of the time). If only we humans did that …
Silence is a gift.
My first car after college had only an AM radio that died when the car was less than two years old, and I never got it fixed. I kept that car 18 years, which means I drove in silence for more than 16 years. My prayer life was never better.
Also, my whole adult life I set the alarm early and have been the first one up. I value that “quiet time” before the routine and non-routine of life begins. I focus on what’s most important and start the day with a calm spirit, which (most of the time) I carry until my head hits the pillow at night. This helps me get through the ups and downs that life throws my way. (Including but not limited to crazy drivers.)
The dollar isn’t almighty
Living debt-free also is a gift, one we can give ourselves.
We paid off our mortgage early when our sons were middle school-age, so throughout their high school and college years we lived debt free. We still do. The peace of mind that comes with that is priceless.
We’ve always lived within our means and pay off our credit card every month.
Before our boys were born, we both had good-paying full-time jobs. We could have taken trips to Hawaii every year and bought fancy cars and houses, but we chose not to pursue that lifestyle. We chose the “family life” instead and never looked back. To this day we have no regrets about that.
I worked in a call center for 2.5 years. (I wasn’t one of those pesky telemarketers; I received calls from customers and answered their questions. Or, I offered a survey to customers after they bought a certain brand of car.)
After working as a professional journalist for more than 25 years, a call center may seem like a big letdown, and financially it was. But because we lived within our means (see the previous entry), we could afford this.
I met people there I never otherwise would have met, some who I still keep in contact with today. I learned skills I otherwise would not have learned. Because I was one of the oldest workers there, I was a de-facto leader, so I had to set a good work-ethic example. Which was not hard for me to do.
No job is beneath me. I’m grateful for every experience I’ve had.
And yet … retirement is around the corner. I think I’ll be ready.