30 years later, Steve says …

This showed up in my email earlier this week:

This unscarred (except the appendectomy scar you can’t see and I’m not going to show you) youngster was a couple of weeks removed from UW–Madison, living on his own for the first time and working full-time for the first time.

I certainly don’t lack for self-regard based on my quotes. (I did not write that story.) “I am dually trained for whatever the world might have in store for me.” Of course, I wasn’t trained for the Internet, but neither was anyone else in those days.

Thirty years later, I did own a newspaper, and I have done sports play-by-play, though my chances of announcing the World Series are about zero. (Because I haven’t done much baseball, baseball is probably my worst sport in terms of play-by-play skill.) I have never worked in broadcasting full-time, and I have learned over the years that that’s probably a good thing, given what I’ve learned about broadcasting over the years.

I have a few Great American Novel ideas, and I’ve started some, but as I’ve written before if the plot of a novel goes from A to Z, I get stuck around F. (And I write so much that sitting down to write more doesn’t exactly sound like fun.)

If you write opinions for a living, or at least as part of your job, you frequently give advice, whether that advice is sought or followed. If you cover high school commencements, as I’ve done for decades (and listened to enough renditions of “Pomp and Circumstance” to actively hate it), you’ve listened to more commencement speeches than you can count, from which often come advice from the adult speakers to the imminent graduates. (Even though, as frequent commencement speaker George Will pointed out, the only thing generally remembered about commencement speeches is their excessive length.) I’ve written a couple as well, and delivered one to graduates, though not at a graduation.

One of the three points in the aforementioned speech was that your life is taking place while you’re waiting for your idealized life to begin. That may have been what baseball broadcaster Harry Caray was thinking about when he observed, “Live it up, boys; it’s later than you think.”

The funniest segment of a commencement speech I have ever heard came from the local high school in 2013, in which a student said, “Four score and seven years ago, I had a dream that one day in this decade we would do things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard. The only thing we had to fear was fear itself, and through struggle we learned that perfection is achieved not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away. For courage is not the absence of fear, but eather the judgment that something else is more important than fear. The best way to guarantee a loss is to quit. In order to succeed, your desire for success should be greater than your fear of failure, but remember this: The complacency of success is the first step to mediocrity.” Sources were, in order, Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King Jr., John F. Kennedy, Franklin Roosevelt, Antoine Saint-Exupery, Dwight Eisenhower, Morgan Freeman, Bill Cosby and the student’s uncle.

Not that I’m an expert, given that there is a gap in my full-time employment (for which I’d like to thank, he wrote sarcastically, Barack Obama and a few former coworkers), but it seems to me that the best way to remain employed is to work at what you do well, not what you “love” or in your “passion.” (I’ll get to that subject shortly.) I had two work choices that didn’t work out because I was much worse at the business end than I was at the job end. (Or at least the business end went worse than the product/service end, and in a business the business is most important. That is something almost no one who never owned a business understands.)

If you can follow your “passion” as a hobby, that’s good, assuming said hobby doesn’t suck up too much money. (I am still pining for a Corvette that as I age I am less and less likely to be able to own.) If you can have a hobby that actually pays you money instead of the other way around, even better.

A famous phrase about Washington, D.C. is “if you want a friend, get a dog.” That is good advice applicable to anywhere and beyond dogs, though dogs remain the most loyal pet you can have. Cats’ “love” is situational based on what you do for them — chiefly, feed them. Most people’s relationship with each other is also situational.

About “love,” a horribly overused word today: You should never love your job, because your job does not love you back. Everyone is replaceable, though some are more difficult to replace than others. Unless you had a really bad employment experience, your current job will compare unfavorably to your previous jobs, but that’s OK because you will be compared to your predecessors (and often unfavorably), and your employers and coworkers look on you better as a former employee than they did when you were working there.

Readers know that I am an Eagle Scout. The Scout Motto is “Be Prepared,” and the Scout Slogan is “Do a Good Turn Daily.” Lesser known, but advice I’ve tried to follow in at least my professional life, is “Leave a place in better condition than you found it.”

I’m not sure if this counts as advice, but it is undeniably true: Life is unfair. Life will always be unfair. That’s because life — your life, everyone’s life, and every human institution — is full of flawed humans.

There is one additional ironic point that I have to make since I am from the Ironic Decade of the ’80s. Had I read this 30 years ago, I would have been unlikely to have followed any of this advice. Some things people must learn for themselves.


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