Aiming Lower


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–blue collar jobs, hard work, and family.

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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  1. I wholeheartedly agree! All my life my parents told me over and over to have a fantastic job and be successful. They were ashamed when I wanted to be a teacher and would make comments to others in public about “spending all that money just so she can be a teacher”. I then came home to help my father farm (our hired man had kidney transplant and then passed) to which the comments would become, “spent all that money so she could come home and farm”. Then I took care of my mother as she struggled with cancer and am now taking care of my dad now that my mother passed, doing his laundry, cleaning his house, and feeding him and my husband every day. I enjoy being home. I enjoy taking care of my dad and my husband and I want to be a stay at home mom when we have children. Yet in the back of my mind, I feel a little shame in not doing something “productive” to society. Instead of a great job I spend my days making cookies for my men. I almost feel ashamed telling people that I have no job. I have been obessing with trying to figure out a new career for my life. Thinking of teaching again, doing some subbing, thinking of starting a business. Feeling an urgency to “do something worthwhile”. Feeling “how is God using me if I am just staying home”. Your message today was enspiring to me. It told me that I can be proud to be a stay at home wife. Helping my men still work cattle and baking cookies. I am going to try harder to just relax and enjoy my time here, use my extra time to do some volunteer work and continue doing what I am doing, loving the men in my life.

    • I wanted to cry reading your post. But you did make me smile with your ending of trying harder to be proud of what you are doing.
      I am also a stay at home wife/mommy. I tell people my husband is blessed to be able to support our family so that i can be home and available for them if they need anything during the day. It is awesome to be able to run to my husbands office ( lol which is upstairs..he is a self employed home remodel contractor) to look something up for him or print out an invoice for him.
      I remind myself that God is using me to BLESS those closest to me everyday.
      May we both see that God has us right where HE wants us even if it does not look like the same as other people!!!

    • That’s beautiful, Christina! Your life is something to be proud of. We have totally gone off track with our emphasis on “doing something productive”, thinking that productive has to equal massive success in the business world. Isn’t it productive to create a lovely home? Isn’t it productive to care for those we love? I think so! What would life be without that! It’s people like you who make life rich, not the people who are rich in money but poor in relationships. You’re doing a service to others and a service to God, and that is all He asks of you.

    • Your story tells of a devotion to the ones you love that is becoming rare in today’s society. My hat is off to you. :-) You sound like an amazing woman!
      Melissa recently posted…On Being StrongMy Profile

    • My wife is a stay at home mom and she loves it… do not have to feel bad about staying home …you are where God wants you….. you also said you would like to look at doing something from home like some kind of business….would like to chat with you and see what you might have in mind and maybe we could help you in this endeavor…

  2. Love the idea that ordinary is ok when it comes to career aspirations. When it comes to character though, we still need to reach for the sky… you had a post on that a while ago about keeping the bar high when it comes to standards. I really liked that one. BTW, what made you decide to have your scheduled posts upload later in the morning? I used to read them on my phone before getting out of bed – good food for thought for the day. I am definitely not an early riser, but 10:00 is too late for that, even for me. :-)
    Leanne recently posted…Tax credit for adoption expenses (line 313)My Profile

    • Sorry, Leanne! That’s a problem with the new Editorial Calendar scheduler that I just uploaded. I have to remember to change the time now! I’ll try to do that.

  3. The expectations I have for my kids is two-fold:
    1. Do your best.
    2. Use your God-given gifts.
    Obviously that means different things for different kids. I have one child who could get all A’s but another child who struggles with school. The expectations are the same but the outcomes are very different. And as they grow and move onto further education and careers I will continue to encourage them to do their best and use their God-given gifts.

    • There is so much wisdom in that, Kristin. I completely agree–same expectations, different outcomes. Do what you can with what God has given you. That’s the big picture!

  4. I am retired now but looking back on my life I am content. My career was not my first choice but I enjoyed it anyway. I am married to the most wonderful woman in the world we have a son and daughter whom we love dearly. Our son has given us a wonderful daughter-in-law and two cute grandsons. My wife and I are more in love than when we got married. We have health problems from time to time but God has richly blessed us, how can we not be content?

  5. Im a string believer that it is important to have a good education. It doesn’t really matter what you study, but study hard and do the best you can. My parents taught me that the important thing to do is be the best at whatever you do, whether that is plumbing, running a company or raising a family to the Lord- or a combination.
    I have a bachelors degree and I got it to help me be the best mom I could be. I don’t feel that was a waste of time or money, and I don’t think others should either.

  6. I heard recently that, while many thousands of people are out of work, many thousands of skilled trade jobs are going unfilled. Those can be high-paying jobs, but they are hard and require specialized training that a lot of young people don’t want (or maybe don’t know about). College is great, but not everyone has to go in order to have a good life.
    Gaye @ Calm.Healthy.Sexy. recently posted…27 Things I’ve Learned in 27 Years of MarriageMy Profile

  7. Hi Sheila,
    I agree with what you are saying, especially the part about “ordinary lives”. There seems to be such a NEED to be famous or dress and live as a celebrity. I think the escalation in reality tv has alot to do with it. Watching “reality/scripted” shows where they are rich and famous does influence so many.

    I’d be very content with a hardworking cowboy myself 😉

  8. learning is fun! says:

    I think that the biggest problem here is that the definition of success has changed to reflect ‘wealth’ and ‘materialism,’ rather than simply meaning ‘a positive result or achievement from the tasks you set your mind to.’ We measure success by the amount of ‘stuff’ you have, or how much money you make – and not by our own satisfaction, or the impact our efforts have had on those around us.

  9. Thanks for this post. I was discussing along this line with a friend yesterday. About the need to learn to appreciate ourselves and thank God for what we have. We should learn to “count our blessings and name them one by one” instead of fretting about what we do not have.
    We should strat to “enjoy Life” right now instead of waiting to earn the billions first

  10. My parent’s always taught me that success was a matter of perception. It only required a few things. 110% of my effort and satisfaction that I could have done no more than I did. Whatever it was that I wanted to do as an adult, no matter what my “talents” were, if I were happy, and doing 110% then I was a successful person. We’re poor people by society’s standards. But all of our needs are met. We have a roof, we have clothes, we have warmth and plenty of food. We can even afford extras like internet and such. Now we don’t have much more than that, and sure it would be nice to have extras, BUT at this season in my life, it’s my job to be the best Mom that my son could have. And I manage my house to the best of my ability and it’s not perfect, but it’s ours and we’re happy. And for me, no matter what you “could have been”, being happy is the most important thing.

  11. Great food for thought Sheila. It reminds me of a conference call I was on about a year ago. It was for women, it was about reaching for our dreams, building a business or ministry, etc. I forget the context but I remember feeling a little overwhelmed with trying to reach to be something amazing. So I asked the question “Is it OK for some people to just be ordinary?” Of course I we answered with a resounding “NO, we are all called to do something amazing”. While I understand the message, I felt a little discouraged. Why isn’t it Ok for me to just love my husband, raise my kids, and live in response to God’s love for me? Maybe being really good at those “ordinary” things is what makes a person extraordinary.
    Just some random thoughts.

  12. Enormous things were expected of me. E-nor-mous. I grew up being told I was a genius, being reminded of my (high) IQ, being told I was going to be a doctor/lawyer/scientist/Nobel prize winner. My father was a (genius) nuclear engineer who died at a tragically early age and, as his only child, all the expectation of his cut-too-short potential fell firmly on my shoulders, from the tender age of one.

    That expectation has been an enormous burden to me all my life. If we expect perfection from our children, then we doom them to fail. When we set the bar no lower than ‘genius’, there is nothing our children can ever do that will exceed our expectations. They must either be super-human, or become a disappointment. And they will, of course, be a disappointment much of the time… and children feel it so keenly when they have let their parents down.

    I tried through high school. I graduated third in my class (so close!) and went to university. where I flailed around, unable to declare a major because everything I felt I *had* to do didn’t interest me and everything I wanted to do didn’t meet expectations. I worked as a florist for most of my time in college and enjoyed the work so much that, at one point, thought I wanted to open a flower shop — but I was told that would be “wasting my education”, and so I trashed the idea. I finally graduated with a perfectly-acceptable-but-not-spectacular degree. I remember very clearly the day my mother realized I would not become what was expected of me. We were having coffee, discussing my upcoming graduation, and she suddenly put her cup down with a clatter and blurted out, “Do you know, it’s just occurred to me… you might just live an *ordinary life*! You might just… be a mother!” Her shock was palpable.

    I am a mother. I have an ordinary life. Looking back, I can see I subconsciously made career choices that moved me away from every chance of extraordinariness that came up. I have spent my life so afraid to fail that I have thwarted all possible success, and I have doomed my own self to the ordinariness that was never intended for me.

    When I look at my life, it is good. I have two beautiful children whom I am raising with care and kindness — and I have been able to be stay home with them when their complicated medical issues made work impossible. I have a house I can afford and food on my table. And a husband who works a hard physical job all of God’s hours and comes home exhausted, but who loves us all. And I now have a shop: an online shop that opened a couple of years ago, which has gone from strength to strength, and which — with the wind at our backs — may actually allow my husband to leave his job in a few years.

    When I go up to check on my children before bed at night, I pray over them, and ask God to give them long, happy, and peaceful lives. I do not want them to achieve great things. I simply want them to have lives that make them happy, that are satisfying in whatever way suits them best. Because as happy as I am and as wonderful as my life is, I don’t have peace with it. I feel like a failure, and I think always will — I don’t know how to escape it. But I am determined to give my own children what I never had: acceptance and pride in a life well lived, no matter what form it eventually takes.

  13. Amen Shelia,
    I think poor is in the mind of the beholder. From the outside we would be judged poor. We live in a trailer, no running water at the moment, but on land we own. That’s the up side. We have very little to our name but what we have is paid for in full. We’ve lived the other side with high paying job and big house and luxuries and I would have never considered us rich but compared to now we would have been judged rich. Now I am truly rich, not in money but in life!
    Anyone interested on our endeavors can check out my blog, :)
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  14. I loved this post, Sheila, it totally resonated with me. I have been feeling like a failure myself , as I was supposed to be a lawyers in my country and then crushed everyone’s expectations, after I left for another country (US), married a guy from a different hemisphere, and now, insted of being a lawyer, I work for one (with full time job and 2 children, I just did not find a way to go to school yet). And my parents like to “rub it in”, especially when my husband lost his job and could not find another for 3 years.
    Your post got me thinking about these issues, and I see now, that I am guilty of the same thing myself already – my five year old GIRL recently came form school with a picture of herself in a hard head and under it, she wrote: I want to be a construction worker. It was a cutest thing, and yet, in a gentle way, I lead her into saying that she would be an architect one day, instead of a construction worker. I am so ashamed of myself now, because there is notihng wrong with honest work, even if my girls decides to be a construction worker, right? As long as she is happy and has a fulfilling life.

  15. Nothing wrong with being ordinary. Not everyone is cut out for college. That’s why we have technical schools. I don’t consider myself anything special. I did what you described, graduated high school, finished college, got a full time Job and then got married & had a child. I make a good salary & can support our family fully if need be.

  16. Caprice S. says:

    This post brought tears to my eyes!
    I was raised by a single mom and her unsuccessful marriage to my dad has twisted her views on what truly is important in life. She has always put pressure on me to be “more.” When I was younger, I dreamed of becoming a wedding planner or working in/owning a small bakery. I’ve always dreamt of a career path in which I could make people happy, but she’s always tried to convince me that I should aim to be a doctor or lawyer instead because of the salary. I began college as a Biochemistry major, a field that I had ZERO interest in. I was very unhappy with my decision but stuck with it for two years because it was what my mother expected of me and I wanted to make her proud. She has gone through so much hurt and disappointment in her life, so I didn’t want to bring any more of that to her.

    But the truth was, I didn’t want the life that my mom had mapped out for me. Above all, I want my life to be filled with faith and love. I am perfectly fine with having an “ordinary” career. I don’t believe that any job is better than another, it’s all about HOW you carry out that job and how you treat those around you. A lot of people see this as “settling” but I see it as contentment. My generation is always striving for more, more, and more but I strive to be content and thankful for where God has placed me. I’m 21 and I have been with the same man since I was 17. Unlike the relationships (that I shouldn’t have had!) in my teens, he has never distracted my from my faith, but has strengthed it so much! We are both in our final few semesters of our undergrad and are planning on getting married as soon as we can once we graduate. What I want most of all is to remain a child of God and become a good wife and good mother (God-willing!).

    So at the beginning of my thrid year, I stepped up and changed my major to suit my interests which resulted in a MAJOR confrontation with my mother. I’ve tried and tried to help her understand my reasoning, but to this day she still thinks I should strive for “more.” (I think I sparked a little understanding in her by taking her along to some of my volunteer work though!) I pray for her understanding and that she too can become happy with her life. I have always admired honest work and I pray that I don’t ever become caught up in the material things in life.

    THANK YOU SHEILA for this post! I am so glad I stumbled upon your blog and I admire your advice!

    • Caprice, it sounds like you’re making good decisions for yourself. Thank you for sharing, and I’m glad that I’ve been an encouragement to you!

  17. I think that the biggest problem here is that the definition of success has changed to reflect ‘wealth’ and ‘materialism,’ rather than simply meaning ‘a positive result or achievement from the tasks you set your mind to.’ We measure success by the amount of ‘stuff’ you have, or how much money you make – and not by our own satisfaction, or the impact our efforts have had on those around us.
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  18. I want to show this post to my fiancé!

    He’s a 23 year old valve tech in the oilfield. I know it’s hard for him seeing guys here making 8k a month. But hey, he works his butt off and provides for us – and I’m so proud of him!

    Thankfully everything here is a blue collar, lol, so no one looks down on that aspect too much.
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  1. […] this! I won’t change the world, but I AM making a difference in mine. Aiming Lower… Share this:Print Pin ItEmail Posted by Amy Everything Else Subscribe to RSS […]

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