Hard work, success, and The Great Gatzby

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geoff laundy on canoe
victoria falls
That’s me, at Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe. I had the opportunity last summer to return, after more than three decades, to where I achieved my first dream.

Last night, our family went to the latest The Great Gatzby movie. We always enjoy visiting the cinema, in part because of a decision a few years ago to invest a significant amount of family retirement (and education) savings funds in Cineplex, the Canadian movie theatre chain. Beyond capital gains, regular dividends are boosting our accounts — all with about as much work as required to read the financial statements and watch the dividend cash accrue.

Of course, it isn’t hard work to go to the movies and it really is ironic that activities that require virtually no “work” — like observing the growth of my so-called retirement savings plan (I don’t plan to retire, at least until I’m in my 80s) generates far more money than my day-to-day occupation.

The fictional characters in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel, of course, all failed in one way or another — that tragedy, in part, is what makes the story. The argument that “old money” breeds arrogance and disrespect, and that “new money” is generally earned dishonestly (suggesting, of course that “old money” might have dishonest roots as well) has been around the popular consciousness for as long as I can remember. (Then again, Fitzgerald doesn’t elevate poverty and brutal hard work to any elusive greatness, either.)

I’m not sure these concepts are true. In any case, success has other definitions than money, and hard work, even in low-paid jobs that wreck the body don’t need to destroy the soul (though they can). See 2013 Best Construction Blog winner Chris Gould’s thoughts on this matter:

My father worked for years in tool and die machine shops. No awards on the wall, very little money in the bank, legs and back worn out, but in his mind, very successful. He had the best job in the world, according to him. One of my sisters worked for years as a cashier at a big box retailer. Several knee and back operations later, she has to leave that job, before retirement age, with no benefits. But when you talk to her, it’s always about that job and the friends she made and the memories of days long past. In other words: a successful career. I worked as a design engineer in the roof truss industry for over 40 years. I chased jobs when times were tough, moving my family all over the State of Florida. Settling for years in some spots and months or weeks in others. No awards on the wall, very little money in the bank, but in my mind a very successful career. Wouldn’t change a thing.

Of course, success can be perceived many ways, depending on our perspective.

In my case, a youthful success — that is, achievement of a major life goal — defined my, for want of a better phrase, “life frame” — one built on a generally optimistic view and perspective. Others at the time perceived the success as genuine, so when I accepted a hard-work (and low-paying) job washing dishes at McDonalds during the 1980-81 recession after returning from Africa, a government employment service counsellor quickly arranged for a job for me at his employment department’s regional headquarters. That “success” led to five years of emotional agony and failure — entrepreneurial voyagers don’t generally fit well into government bureaucracies.

But how can I judge others?  See the posting based on my interview with Geoff Laundy, who had the opportunity to travel through Africa with motivational guru Brian Tracy, and who in late-life lives near Tracy, but with a very different success experience.

Maybe I’m fortunate to have just enough (but not too much) intelligence to be able to seize opportunities and thrive in an occupation that doesn’t require brute physical power. (On Friday, I received an invitation to join a Facebook and LinkedIn network of High IQ individuals — about 700 in total, so far.  My IQ isn’t that high, I expect. Guess what, the brainy bunch have just as much if not more failure than us mere mortals, though my Facebook timeline is certainly now showing some intellectually elevated content.)

Does hard work lead to success? Maybe, maybe not. However, I think “hard work” in the sense of true commitment, passion, caring and intensity of effort to achieve the desired objective, is essential for success. Often, however, the work doesn’t seem to be that hard if we really enjoy it.

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