On this one of the many snowy mornings in the northeast this year, I look out at my walk and wonder how to move the snow. Growing up, I remember the race to get up early on a snowy morning to be the first shoveler out there making the driveway rounds and filling our pockets. Snow and fall leaves were the best of all monetary possibilities. It’s an annuity business (weather keeps coming), it’s relationship-oriented (knew the ones that offered hot chocolate), and it’s entrepreneurial (filled with endless possibilities). This simple activity helped to develop many of today’s entrepreneurs. Work ethic, perseverance, and marketing all came together to strengthen who we were and define who we could be.
The last 18 years of unprecedented prosperity have brought forth driveways that remain unplowed. We have a generation-plus now that have by and large lost their work ethic, their initiative, their drive, their determination, and the fire that moves our collective economic engines forward. We are working more and living less. We get less joy from our work and more stress. We have more things, but we own less (my neighbor doesn’t even own his own snow shovel; I think Amex does). My impending college graduate expects to earn $50,000 and live in Manhattan upon her graduating in May. While I applaud the notion, the concept burdens our economy with a weight that it can’t continue to carry. Our materialist standard of entitlement has choked off our vision. We can’t see the possibilities because we are blinded by what others are telling us we should have and what we should be, while we drown in all our possessions. As told by our credit card debt, while not even owning most of what we buy, we have mortgaged our future to fill our present. Our shoveling and raking money never defined who we were, but did determine what we could buy. We would never think of overvaluing or overpricing our work because these were our neighbors and there were 10 others just behind us with shovels and rakes.
Our values define our experience. The choices Circuit City made to substitute skilled workers with unskilled labor that unwittingly screwed up your car and then wouldn’t be responsible for their actions have forced the closing of their doors today for good. This is in sharp contrast to when a shovel went through a window or a rake broke a flower pot and we repaired it or replaced it without being told to do so.
The shovelers didn’t fall for the illusion that the driveway appeared to be clear nor were we fooled by the black ice that needed to be salted. We didn’t wait to be asked or for a lawsuit before we got the salt down. We need to know now what we knew then; that we what are already is good enough. According to our President, “We are a nation of capacity that is undetermined and we are no less than we ever were before.”
We need to be true to the talents we have and give voice to what we authentically are. While the disease of Alzheimer’s removes the masks that we have collected over a lifetime, the joy that comes from the freedom of knowing these true souls somehow mitigates the loss. Don’t wait to remove your mask; remove it prior to entering your life. Wendell Berry said, “When we no longer know what to do, we come to our real work.”
With the onslaught of “pink slips,” not knowing what to do is a call for what to do next. It is certainly not a time to stop doing. Think creatively. The rakers, the shovelers, the bag carriers all were born from economic necessity. The economy and the dark winter that accompanies it gives us time to sit down, pause, get quiet, be still, stop shopping, and surround ourselves with those that know who we really are and believe in all that we can be. What we have within us is greater than what is going on around us. We have what we need inside to change our circumstances.
The masquerade of interviewees that don’t have the skills they claim to have, want salaries that their work can’t support, and the lies on applications that don’t support the values we need, all have to stop. Our authenticity needs to be our resume. We need workers whose bodies occupy the same space that their invested emotional and intellectual energy does. Helen Street says it best: “We need the chairs in our businesses filled with bodies that also include their heads.” Job descriptions don’t bring productivity, engaged people do.
“We need to find the confidence in the chaos that surrounds us now,” according to Rev. Sam Goff. Only by individual and collective efforts will our current economic situation be turned around. As soon as we believe and support the values, ethics, and the individual, our circumstances will change.
“Commitment means moving through a door of change through which you do not intend to return.” — David Simon
I know that when I see the return of the shovelers and rakers again, we will have learned the lessons and our true prosperity will begin.
Julie Sue Auslander, M.Ed, WPO, WBE
Chief Cultural Officer/ aka President
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