Are you sick and tired of working? Feeling fed up and wish you could jump up and shout, “I quit!” for everyone to hear? Believe me I’ve been there and boy do I know how you feel. But before you go and do anything rash, I want you to hear some true stories of people I’ve met that have inspired me to actually work harder and reflect on the blessings I have in life. I hope these stories can motivate you too and help you turn any negative feelings and frustrations you have in your career into revitalizing fuel to start making positive changes in your life. Perhaps your job won’t seem as hard by the time you finish reading these stories.
Put yourself in their shoes
One of the sayings I try to remind myself when I’m having a rough day or not feeling well is, “it could always be harder.” It’s easy to get so caught up in ourselves at times that we forget what’s going on around us and in other parts of the world. Often times things aren’t as unbearable as they may seem at first, especially if we have the freedom and power to start taking control of our situation. Every single one of us has the ability to make changes no matter how large or small.
Here are several stories of people I’ve met who have incredible work ethic and stamina. They haven’t let misfortunes or hardships spell disaster and they certainly don’t feel sorry for themselves. Instead, they’ve seized opportunities and are staying focused on taking action to make the most of their circumstances.
Driving for a cause
The other day as I was leaving one of my consulting gigs, I hailed an Uber from my phone. It was the day after Thanksgiving and most of the financial district was a cold and windy ghost town. I was one of the few dedicated souls who had deadlines to meet while countless others were home watching TV or fighting crowds for door busters on Black Friday. I didn’t know what to expect in terms of Uber fares that afternoon since I wasn’t too far from the craziness happening in SF’s major shopping district, Union Square. I was pleasantly surprised when I was matched with a 4.92 rated driver, Shana, for just $5.50 instead of the usual $8-10.
It’s rare to get a female driver in the city here as I imagine it is in most other areas too. Anyway, Shana was super friendly and we quickly got to chatting on my 30 minute drive home. We got onto the topic of holiday shopping and I asked what her kids have on their lists in hopes to get some ideas for my nephews. Little did I know how my simple question would lead to a story that would inspire me to write this post.
Shana said with a smile, “My 9-year-old son loves Legos, especially anything StarWars. So he’s easy to shop for but Legos can get expensive. My 13-year-old daughter really surprised me this year though with how much she’s grown up. She only asked for a few small things because she knows I’m working extra hours to make money so I can send her to D.C. next year with her school.” Admirable, go mom!
As the conversation unfolded further I found out that Shana doesn’t live in the Bay Area like most SF Uber drivers. She actually lives 2 hours away in the central valley! Shana drives all the way to San Francisco three to four times a week just to try and get good fares because there’s no demand where she lives. W-o-w. If you thought your commute was long, it’s probably no where near Shana’s four hour roundtrip commute to get up to SF.
Here is a modest woman living in a rural area with two kids and limited local work opportunities. She isn’t complaining about her circumstances. She is hustling to make extra money for her family with a smile on her face. Even though Uber is known for its non-tipping culture and my ride only cost $5.50, I happily tipped her $5 when she dropped me off. It wasn’t much in the grand scheme of things, but I wanted to help her get $5 closer to her goal. I was really inspired by her positive attitude, her determination to reach a financial goal for her daughter and her incredible work ethic.
Selflessly caring for others
A family friend of mine, Peggy, should be retired by now. She’s in her 60s and looks like a typical grandma with white hair and glasses. If you saw her, you’d imagine her as a sweet old lady who hums while she bakes biscuits in the kitchen and sips tea on her front porch for hours each day. But, while I’m sure Peggy would love to have that type of lifestyle these days, her reality is much different.
Peggy works several jobs as a housekeeper, a private nurse for a paraplegic man who lives alone, and a full-time caregiver for her 30-something-year-old daughter who suffers from pretty intense mental illness. Peggy used to spend most of her time working in janitorial at a local gym, but she got pushed out earlier this year so management could hire a 20-something-year-old replacement for less money.
It was quite a blow. Hiring a lawyer to fight for age discrimination wasn’t an affordable or worthwhile option for her, but at least she was able to get out of a hostile work environment. In the meantime, Peggy’s had to try and pick up extra side jobs to make up for that lost income. Even though her body aches and it’s getting harder for her to physically keep up, you won’t hear her complaining. She’s soft on the outside but tough as an ox on the inside.
Sadly, Peggy’s biggest burden is her daughter, Diane. Diane has schizoaffective disorder and isn’t able to live alone. She can’t hold a job, refuses to take medication or see therapists and isn’t willing to file for disability coverage (even though she would qualify and the funds would be an immense help). Because Diane often has outbursts that disturb their neighbors, Peggy has had to pack up and move the two of them on multiple occasions, which gets really expensive. Worst of all, Diane constantly fights and belittles her mother even though Peggy does everything for her.
The reason Peggy is still working so hard in her 60s is because she needs extra money to care for Diane. Can you imagine sacrificing your own retirement and working long hours at that age just to have enough money to scrape by? Peggy tirelessly cares for her daughter even though she gets verbally abused in the process and gets no thanks in return. That’s not a place anyone wants to be, yet Peggy keeps going day after day. Caring for someone afflicted with mental illness who isn’t willing to seek treatment has got to be one of the most difficult tests of character. Peggy is a true example of just how big a mother’s love can be. It’s incredible how much people like Peggy sacrifice and hustle in order to care for someone they love.
Away at sea
I have a bit of an “old soul” in that I love to go on long cruises. No, not the party boat kind. I’m talking about the kind of cruise where the average age is close to 65-70 and you get to go on touristy excursions and watch cheesy off-off-broadway type shows at night. If you’ve never been on a cruise like this before, you’d be impressed with how much goes on behind the scenes. The best ships have passenger : crew ratios close to 1 : 0.86. Given most large cruise ships have ~2,500 – 3,000 passengers on board, that’s a ton of crew working below decks and in hidden passageways.
Whenever I go on a cruise I try and get to know my cabin steward and the other crew members I regularly interact with. Many of them are from English-speaking Asian countries such as the Philippines and Singapore. What has always struck me is how so many members of the crew have a spouse and children back in their home countries that they are miles away from for months on end. Many crew contracts run for 6-8 months straight. That’s a long time to be away at sea without getting to spend any time with your family! But for many of the crew, working for a cruise line provides income and benefits that they wouldn’t get access to otherwise where their families are located.
For the lucky few who work in the photography department or as an entertainer, the hours on board are quite reasonable – typically 4-5 hours a day. But, for the majority of the crew the hours are much, much longer and exhausting. My cabin steward on a European cruise, Nico, said he averaged about 12 hours a day, 7 days a week. Bar staff work even longer hours, typically 12-16 hours a day, 7 days a week. I’ve worked 12- 14 hour days before and they were absolutely draining.
Imagine working hours like that every single day for practically 8 months straight with no weekends off. Doesn’t your job sound easier now? What always impresses me is that even though there are thousands of crew members working insane hours like these, they are some of the nicest people you’ll ever meet. You won’t catch them complaining or wearing a scowl on their face either. Perhaps some of them do once they’re below deck, but we’ll never know. All of us could learn a thing or two from them about superior level customer service.
There are many people working a lot more than us
The next time you’re tired of working, remind yourself there are many people all over the world who are working a lot more than us. Things probably aren’t as bad as they may seem. But if they are, reach down and find the initiative within yourself to change your circumstances for the better.
Careers don’t have to go in a straight line. Life certainly doesn’t!
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Untemplaters, are you tired of working? What’s the most exhausted you’ve ever felt on the job? Have you ever met someone who is actively hustling to make a better life for his/her family that inspired you to work harder?
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