A Working Stiff
Even though today is March 17th, St. Patrick’s Day, I have always thought of it as the day before I entered the business world. Back in 1974, I graduated from the University of Illinois on March 15th, and started working with my Dad on the 18th, which was a Monday. My father, having recently been diagnosed with cancer, was released from the hospital on the 10th, the same day I started my finals week, finishing on Friday, the 15th; the day I graduated. My dreams of going on to medical school had vanished when my father received his diagnosis, and since I was brought up in a family that believed the oldest son was responsible to care for the family, I “did my duty” and made plans to help my Dad keep the business going. My job was to learn his business, inside and out, because everyone depended on Dad to support our family; and if he died, that responsibility would fall to me.
So, my memory of that Sunday evening 37 years ago was one of anticipation and anxiety – not knowing what to expect while at the same time being angry that I would not be going on to medical school. We had settled on an initial salary of $200 per week, for full time work, and Dad made it clear that we would spend every waking moment teaching me about every nuance of his business and the relationships he had built over the years.
Monday morning, I drove the 45 minutes from Darien, IL, where Janet and I lived, up to Palatine, in the northwest suburbs of Chicago, to start my life in the corporate world. I can’t say that I was really excited. Our family was in the wood products industry and my father was a manufacturers’ rep, and sold for more than 60 different woodworking plants. For my graduation from grammar school, almost 8 years earlier, I had received typing lessons as my graduation present, so I could go to the office every night and type letters, orders, invoices and envelopes for Dad. I received $.25 per page, and $.01 to type an envelope. Not exactly high finance. But this experience with the names and addresses of our customers and vendors was enough to get me started.
I remember ordering business cards and going door to door in Chicago trying to sell wood products. Sometimes I would enter buildings so dilapidated that the elevator would go up one story, only to slide back down halfway to the floor below. Old men, who had been in the business for years, would not even listen to this young kid, who didn’t know anything about the industry. But boy, did I work hard! Because we all thought that Dad would be dead in 6 months, and we were scared to death that the family would not survive. Fear is a powerful motivator. As it turned out, Dad lived just about 4 years and 3 months from the date of his diagnosis. And the whole time, I worked like a wild man.
As I look back on the March 17th so many years ago, I am amazed at how my life has changed. Dad, of course, is long gone, and so is Mom. In fact, as I sit here tonight, I am older than my father was when he died. And I think about how many years I was in the corporate world, fighting for every order, doing every thing I could do to make a buck. And I was ruthless in my pursuit of success. Thank God, I have changed.
But I often wonder, especially at times like this, how my life would have been different if I would have pursued God the way I pursued success. While I get it now, it took many years for me to understand that if we place our faith in God, and follow His plan for our lives, the rest will take care of itself. In fact, I have more balance in my life, and I am more fulfilled, than I have ever been. And my work is more productive – because I have made a choice to pursue God – day by day.
Christ, in John 10:27, says it best, “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow me.” So here is a lesson I have learned from my own life. The most important thing you can strive to achieve in this life is a right relationship with Jesus Christ. Leave the rest to Him. Christ has a plan for you, and that includes your job, and all the other things you think you need to succeed. But be reminded that God’s definition of success may not be the same as yours!
And that’s okay. My encouragement today is that you let go, follow Him and let God direct your steps. I tried it my way for many years, starting on that March 18th, back in ’74. I wish I had pursued God the way I pursued my selfish desires. But, thank God that I was changed, from the inside out, by being willing to yield to God and follow Him. My prayer is that the same will happen to you. Grace and Peace, in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ.