Sometimes, we all forget to give thanks for all the things we have in life, because we are so focused on the things we don’t have.
This morning, one of my friends on Facebook shared the commencement speech J.K. Rowling gave to the class of 2008 at Harvard. Some commencement speeches are half-hearted attempts to get us to “go out there and change the world” when we all really know that most of the students in the audience end up in business, finance, law, medicine, or some other equally lucrative career. But this speech was truly inspirational.
She believes that we learn more about ourselves from our failures than we do our successes. In fact, “it is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all – in which case, you fail by default,” she says. But the point is, we each define failure in our own way. And each one of us defines success in our own way. But any experience is experience and I believe that as long as we keep learning, keep growing, keeping challenging ourselves, and keep an open mind – we don’t fail.
My parents immigrated to the U.S. over 30 years ago. My mom barely finished grade school and my dad didn’t finish high school. They left China toward the end of the the Cultural Revolution in China (that’s real adversity for you). They lived a very practical, modest lifestyle their entire lives (and still do). They didn’t have much money. We don’t live in a huge house or drive fancy cars. I didn’t have a lot of toys growing up (I had a lot of books :). I didn’t get new things for each birthday or Christmas. Most of the time, I made my own Halloween costumes. If I wanted to buy something, I had to save up for it (on my allowance of $5/ every other week in grade school, $10/week in middle school and $20/week in high school). Growing up, I had my share of hand-me-down clothing from my older sister.
Anyway, by most people’s definition, my parents weren’t very “successful”.
But to me, they are two of the most successful people I know. They don’t have the luxuries that most people today consider necessities: going out to restaurants regularly, computers, smart phones, a clothing budget, a personal care budget, yearly family vacations, traveling, health insurance (for most of their lives), etc. And as a result, over the years, they managed to stay out of debt, buy 2 homes (1 has since been sold), send their kids off to take music lessons, send 2 children to college (the 3rd one just started), and successfully raised three really good kids. Kids that more or less followed the rules, kept to themselves, listened to adults, didn’t bully other kids, and for the most part, were hard working and diligent (in their own way). My parents never had much, but they were happy. And never once did they blame anyone else for anything. Not the government, not the “big corporations”, no one. They truly believed that they were responsible in providing for their family and finding the means to do so. And accepted personal responsibility.
They taught me the importance of being smart and practical. To postpone instant gratification (it took me 20 good years of hard work, and not without obstacles, to get where I am today) to achieve my long term goals. And not to think of making sacrifices for your family as a sacrifice, but rather, giving them a gift.
So forgive me when I have no pity for those people that are out of work and have to cut back on the lifestyle they feel entitled to. Or for those people that are stuck working a job they are miserable in, and expect someone else to do something about it. Or for those students that made the mistake of taking out a 100k loan for a degree that is now useless and cannot find a way to pay it back. Or for the jobs that have gone overseas to other countries. Or for the people that bought houses they couldn’t afford. I apologize, because I cannot empathize with you.
The two individuals that raised me did so much more, with so much less.