Lessons Learned in Southern Italy

When I was 19 years old, I visited my father’s birthplace in Southern Italy for the first and only time.  He had not been home in 31 years at that point.  It is a very impoverished, quite small but charmingly beautiful seaside village. Many things drew my attention but one thing really stood out.  In such a poor area, the dignity of work was indelible.  It didn’t matter what the job was, it was done with precision and pride.  Whatever needed to be  done was done to perfection.  The mantra was to perform as if you were the very best at whatever….farming, cooking, carrying water, trash collection, beach cleaning, street sweeping…..whatever your assignment was.

I have often thought about the people I was so captivated by.   In the systems I was and am more familiar with, there is a hierarchy with a pecking order.  It had a lot to do with influencing how you felt  about your assigned or selected work.  If you were in the early stages of work, an entry level assignment was good.  If, you were in later stages of your career, an entry level type position was a demotion and source of disappointment.  It felt like a punishment.   The emphasis was all ego driven.  I am only 26 years old and I am at the top of my profession.  I am 56 and I am still working on entry level type jobs.  Rarely do I notice anything like pride in performance.  I notice pride at level achieved instead.  To me there is a huge difference.  There is a lot more at stake than just a job.  Self esteem enters the picture in both scenarios but only the first offers a truly democratic universal self esteem payback.  The other one is ready to wear you down and erode your sense of mattering and making a difference.  What a difference perspective makes, don’t you think?

Yes, we live in this society with these rules and criteria.  Does anyone else think it is time to stop and examine the merits of the simple dignity of work?  Has anyone else climbed the ladder relentlessly and realized too late that it really leads no where?  Have you realized that at the end of the day there is  another day like the one you just put in facing you with a carrot that keeps receding just a little as you hop toward it thinking that once you have caught it, life will really be great?  How many of you have caught the carrot?  And, what did you find?  Oh, maybe there was a bigger carrot beckoning you but maybe not.  Some years ago there was a popular song sung by Peggy Lee.  It was called, “Is That All There Is?”  Well, if you approach your life as a career treadmill on an ever upward sloping incline that IS all there is.  Would you say it’s worth it?  I don’t think so.  Look around.  What else impacts your life?  Pick each element up in your mind.  Roll it over and examine it.  Put it down and look at the next item.  Realize that there is so much more to your life.  Whatever job you have deserves your best effort, of course.  Do what ever is asked of you and do it with pride.  Be the best whatever it is you can be.  But work to live your full life not just one small part of it.

My first trip to Italy lasted for 21 days.  When I arrived, I thought about how different our societies and worlds were.  I was coming from a very advanced nation and here, in Southern Italy, I was in a more primitive culture.   When I left, I couldn’t help but wonder who had the more advanced life style.



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