From Shoeshiner to Millionaire.
We have a saying in Poland “from shoeshiner to millionaire”. Meaning that anyone, can become anyone – no matter their background or circumstances. Pretty much something like American Dream. I am a great believer, that this is the case. Of course, I would be very ignorant if not arrogant, if I didn’t recognise that those coming from less privileged or poorer backgrounds (and I don’t only mean financial situation of the family, but simply the support, respect and love given from your close ones), may not have as easy road to success.
What is success though?
Success – accomplishment – achievement – prosperity – triumph – victory – fame – gain – progress – benefit – ascendency – plenty of descriptions and synonyms you can find in dictionaries and online.
I purely would like to focus, on a successful career on this one occasion. On this occasion, I do not aim to separate or focus on success in personal life, school or any other part of our lives in this note, so please don’t think that I believe success is only coming from career and professional work.
I am happy to say I am successful. I can see it now. For a long time, I couldn’t recognise this. No matter how hard I worked, what job I did and whatever my financial status was– it was not good enough. I didn’t recognise the success, even when it was hitting me in the face.
This might be coming from childhood, teenage years. My generation and my culture were growing up in times, where you were constantly pushed to do better. Because no matter how good your work and effort were, you could still do better. But I also grew up in the environment, where my parents made me appreciate money, hard work and other people. I used to have comfortable life of a typical middle-class family. I do only very briefly recall times, from mid-late 80’s, the changes that Poland was going through and the start of so much welcomed (back then) capitalism.
I certainly did not experience the lack of goods in my young life, not like my parents or grandparents, where people had to wait up to 3 years to buy a car, everyone was wearing same clothes and all that you could buy in stores was vinegar, and where toilet paper was classed as luxurious goods. My generation in contrast to this, had plenty of opportunities. Good education available, freedom to learn new languages, ability to develop interests and skills whether that was learning to play guitar or part take in sports classes. My parents invested great deal of money but also time in allowing me to become who I am.
All that, you might say, was available because of what family I grew up in. I agree. It shaped me as a person. But it also led to constant chase. Chasing bigger and better things. Comparing myself. Never being fully satisfied nor able to recognise, that good is GOOD enough. Massive amount of personal freedom and independence in my teenage years. Still I would not do it any different. Ability to get on a bus, to a foreign country 15 years ago and what followed. I wouldn’t be able to do it, if my family didn’t trust in me.
A little bit more on my work history and how I got to, where I am now. Upon finishing high school at age of 19 I did not immediately get to the desired university. All in all, that might have been best that happened to me. My parents were quick to tell me, this is it. If you want to have money in your pocket, you better go and get a job. And believe me, those days were not easy, unemployment was reaching 20% in my area. That was a big lesson learned, that even during tough times you can still make it, if you are willing to work hard and put effort in it.
I signed up with local unemployment centre and within a week I was offered a placement, at big dry cleaner/laundry. By placement I mean earning apprenticeship wage. This was around £80 -85 per month. To put in perspective! And just like nowadays, not many people were interested in putting work for nothing. But I took the job and was quite excited. I turned up on my first day, was handed an awful uniform and a hairnet (yes even at dry cleaners you have to wear hairnet). It was slightly embarrassing, so I thought back then. Quickly I realised, no job is embarrassing and certainly outfit would not define if I do a good job or not. Everyone there was wearing it, and everyone there was working hard, and the only difference was, I was doing same job for about 3 or 4 times less money.
I quickly accommodated and became a part of a team. I was the youngest, but that was my advantage. They looked after me. The values I brought from home, to treat others with respect, in polite manner and the way I would like to be treated were crucial to build good work relationships. Ability to bond with your colleagues, being able to rely on them and connect even with those, that had reputation of tough personalities, made my life so much easier.
I learned quickly, proven myself and was able to do a very good job. That was a pride thing. And it continued for coming years. Whatever job I did in my life, I used to compete with my inner self to always deliver best possible result. It was ok to start with, but over the years I realised it was also ruining me. Perfectionism can be your best asset, but also worst nightmare.
Going back to my first ever job, what I am trying to explain (especially for those younger readers), that we all have to start somewhere and finish somewhere. Professional career doesn’t just happen, where one day you wake up and your office door has a CEO tag on it. Professional career has also got many meanings. For some it will depend on the job title, amount transferred into your bank account each month, maybe number of dependant employees. But for some it will purely be a job that provides the living, is not causing stress and is satisfactory enough, to not look for any other position. Each and every job provides a learning opportunity. We can take many skills from working in different roles, and transfer those skills to future opportunities, as long as we are open minded.
As many people there are in the world, as many there are reasons and drivers. And that is the right way. There must be a balance. We can’t all be lawyers, doctors, CEO’s. We need factory workers, cleaners, shop assistants and waitresses. But we also have to be able to, recognise individual success of those people and the job they are doing.
What bothers me a lot nowadays, in the environment I lived and worked in past years (so please do not think I generalise, as I purely cannot speak for other companies, cities, countries), is the high expectations that people have. It feels majority (again, I stress not everyone but those I came across) of young people just expect. Expect to get a good job, high pay, short hours with no additional effort. What about working for it? What about testing your own abilities and what am I good at? What skills I have, what skills I need to gain. The reason we should start somewhere at the “bottom”, is to appreciate the value of hard earn money and value of work that goes into earning this.
Why are there so many children in the world working, rather than enjoying their childhood and educating for the better future? Why are there so many elderly, that continue hard labour rather than finally having time to rest? Because there are no better options in those countries at this stage. But that is the growth, that their countries are going through in their own economical method. Those countries are changing as well, although the demand for goods driven by western countries is creating a pressure on works in developing countries, but without that pressure, some of them possibly would never be able to afford to get of the streets in the first place.
There is no good or wrong answer, and I think the matters of capitalism or growing economies (I simply don’t like term third world countries), is a completely different subject. Although again it shows the drive, hard work, strong values can take you further up that “dreaded” career ladder.
I worked few jobs in my life. From already mentioned dry cleaning business, waitress, barman, factory worker, shop assistant, security officer, office worker, administrator, accounts assistant, accountant, financial controller, customer support manger. Each of those roles has taught me something new. I don’t just mean technical skills, but as I was getting older (or growing up), working at each of the roles, provided me opportunity, to grow as a professional. I learned to appreciate hard work that goes in every type of work. I learned to respect, and value others work. I learned that nothing is given forever. It is hard work to get to the top, and it is even harder when we are faced with losing it all.
That’s why it’s important to remember there isn’t just one, right success path. Something that worked for me 10 years ago, might not be applicable anymore. It’s good to continuously developing yourself and trying new things. I personally decided to take a short step to the side. Not back step. Not step forward. Just decided to pause for a moment, re-evaluate my achievements so far and maybe continue on the same path, and maybe try something new. And there is nothing wrong with that either. It is what feels right just at this moment in time.
I just wanted to tell you - remember that success is a continuum. It’s a state of mind, more than of what’s in your wallet.
“Put your heart, mind, and soul into even your smallest acts. This is the secret of success.”