This year marked the 5 year anniversary of my Grandfather’s passing. When he died, it was like losing my father. In fact, he was the only father figure in my life for my first 8 years until my mother remarried. So it’s no surprise his death affected me as deeply as it did.
This past thanksgiving, while surrounded by my family and sharing memories of past generations, I found myself reflecting on what a remarkably different life my grandfather lived from mine. It really helped me to gain a perspective for many facets of my life today.
Perspective on hard times
My grandfather was born in Germany, in 1922, but his parents immigrated to the U.S. while he was an infant. He was eight years old when the Great Depression began. He worked as a farm hand, paper boy, milk delivery man and dozens of other odd jobs until he graduated high school. The money he made from these jobs went to help provide for the family.
By contrast, I didn’t have a job until I was 15 and that was just a cushy job stocking shelves in a local book store. I had a number of other, similar jobs at department stores throughout my high school and early college career but I looked at every one of them as a nuisance. It was just formality I had do endure to get money every week for the movies. I never had to provide for my family. I have since realized how fortunate I was not just to have had the jobs I have had, but to have any kind of job at all and to have the income as my own.
Knowing what simply living in the Great Depression was like for him, I have a sense of calm in the current economic storm. That calm comes from the perspective gained that the current economic condition, as bad as it may get, is nowhere near the Great Depression.
Perspective on entitlements
My grandfather’s father (whom he always called “POP”) worked in the kitchen of a prestigious golf course restaurant. Since he had lived his entire life in Germany and didn’t know very much English, he was greatly limited in the opportunities available to him. But he didn’t complain. He didn’t expect those around him to learn German. He worked late into the night learning English. Eventually, he became the Matre’D of the restaurant. Nothing was handed to him – he worked for everything he got and took each setback as a minor bump on the journey to a better life.
I don’t expect a promotion, a big raise or bonus simply for being present at my job. I realize the job itself is not a given and I need to provide real productivity for my employer. I wish some of my coworkers at the same perspective.
Perspective on service and sacrifice
When America was thrust into World War II, my grandfather served his country as so many of his generation did, with a selfless sense of duty. He didn’t talk much about his time in “the war”. When he did talk about joining the military, he was very nonchalant about it. To him, and many of his generation, it was just the thing you did. After his passing, we learned a few more details of his service though. He originally enlisted in the Air Force, but had a “disagreement” with superior officer and was transferred to the infantry. Did I mention he was a stubborn German?
Because of the sacrifice of his generation, I have never had to consider such world altering events. Knowing that he volunteered to fight for his country at a time when many did not, has given me the perspective to see much of the trials and tribulations in my everyday life as just plain silly by comparison. He had put his dreams of a family life and career on hold for a higher purpose.
Perspective on work
After the war, my grandfather got a job at IBM. He started as one of the guys who fed punch cards into the mainframe computers. He had to travel 60 miles each way to work. His commute took him over a 7,793 foot bridge that only had timbers as makeshift curbs for the first 4 months he traveled it – it was still too cold to pour concrete guard rails! He worked his way up to be a programmer and was a mid-level manager by the time he retired.
There are mornings that I wake up and think I just cannot bear to go into work another day. I’m a software developer and I work with a few code jockeys who are fresh out of college and think they know everything. Worse than that – it is their firmly held belief that they are entitled to the rewards and responsibility that those with 15 years experience in the field have. I know the code jockey type because I used to be one. I complained when the project I was assigned was too boring and uninspiring. I felt that the world owed me whatever my naive heart desired. I complained when I had to drive 45 minutes to work with a little traffic and no obvious peril!
I’m not the same person anymore. Mostly because I’ve just grown up over the years, but I can’t help but think that much of that “growing up” process is due to the perspective given to me by my grandfather.
I face many challenges in my life that my grandfather and his generation never had to contend with. His generation was the last to work for one employer most of their lives and receive a retirement provided for by company pension and social security. Social Security will likely be a bust by the time I retire, and the number of companies offering pensions is rapidly dwindling. Even so, I have many more options and control over my career than my grandfather’s (or even my father’s) generation, and I have the perspective of history to guide me through moments I might otherwise give in to panic or selfish immaturity.