Every Friday my syndicated column appears in a bunch of newspapers in southeastern Ontario and Saskatchewan. This week’s column encourages taking pride in living an ordinary life.
Lately our family’s soundtrack has been country music. Perhaps it’s because there’s a group of teenage boys that my daughters hang out with who listen to country, but for whatever reason my girls have started downloading country songs off of iTunes. And one of the ones they love is Montgomery Gentry’s “That’s Something to Be Proud of.”
It bears no resemblance to anything Taylor Swift would sing, so it seems like a surprising choice. It’s a song for guys, and the first verse, about losing your brother in the war, always makes me tear up. But it’s the second verse that seems to be the reason for the download. It says:
“You don’t need to make a million, Just be thankful to be workin’. If you’re doing what you’re able, and putting food there on the table, and providing for the family that you love, that’s something to be proud of.”
I think it resonates because our culture no longer takes pride in living an ordinary life. My girls and their friends are obsessing over their futures: What should I take in school? What business can I start? What do I want to do with the rest of my life? And the message they get, over and over, is aim for success!
What if that’s the wrong message? Too many people are aiming for the virtually impossible. They want to have a high paying job where they love their work but have short hours. They want to be famous. They want things easy.
Life, however, rarely works like that. Most who do eventually earn great success do so only after putting in their time in the trenches. But let’s not forget that the time in the trenches is not just a means to an end; like Montgomery Gentry sings, it’s something to be proud of, even if you never rise that far above it.
What’s wrong with earning an honest living? What’s wrong with working hard, putting in an effort, and slowly but surely building up a small nest egg? You may not take a cruise every year, or have a collection of shoes, or buy each new iPhone that comes out, but it can still be a very rewarding life. Everything you have you worked for. Maybe, instead of telling kids to aim for a life of massive success and leisure, we should be espousing the virtues of aiming lower.
We talk down honest work too much. We tell girls who want to be nurses’ aides to be doctors instead. We tell boys who just want to work with their hands that they need a university degree. We tell kids that they should aim for a life where they’ll be rich and don’t have to get dirty. No wonder so many people think simple work is beneath them!
The Brookings Institute recently found three things that virtually guaranteed you would never be poor: graduate from high school; don’t get married until you’re 21, and only have children after you’re married; and take a full-time job—any full-time job. Do those three things and you have a 2% chance of being poor and a 74% chance of being in the middle class.
You may begin at minimum wage, but work hard and you’ll work your way up. You’ll be able to save for a small house, put food on the table, and buy a few luxuries. Aiming lower may not be glamorous, but it’s still something to be proud of.
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