I feel delightfully inspired by Larry, a friend on sabbatical from banking to run his own restaurant, a goal that’s excited him ever since he was a student in business school.
I’ve visited his diner several times and seen how incredibly hard he works. I was a bit skeptical during the first two months when he slept little, lost weight, and struggled to be with his young family. The business needed him 24/7. But despite obvious sacrifices, he was always beaming as if he’d found a treasure trove of great joy.
Our most recent conversation two weeks ago marked the end of six months for Larry’s bustling, fifty-seat eatery. He gave the kitchen total trust and autonomy, after taking special care to hire and groom the crew, down from the chefs and sous chefs to pot washers and floor sweepers.
Since day one, Larry’s also believed he can best run the business by being mostly at the front where he helps to serve diners and trains the staff on the till. He also takes pride in looking after takeout customers who keenly line up at regular intervals.
Like many in his generation, Larry’s a thirty-something who grew up observing two different cultures of work ethics: his parents’ immigrant tradition of hard work and upward mobility, and his own new-world Canadianism of passion and dreams.
Larry’s often said that he’s benefitted from both schools of thought.
Two weeks ago, at four PM when the staff finally caught a break after several lunch rushes, Larry told me if his passion was culinary entrepreneurship, his ultimate dream would be inner peace from the innovative success, “for me, my beautiful wife, and our adorable kids.”
So, Larry knows about doing what he loves and loving what he does. Parallel to his philosophy would be an intrinsic passion developed by college students for their education. A brief but labor-intensive process, college is also a character-building experience toward desirable attributes: being smarter, more confident, and more successful, with marketable skills they can proudly apply to rewarding careers. What’s not to love about that?
Back when I taught first-year English to college students, their curriculum would include Martin Luther King Jr.’s essay, “The Dimensions of a Complete Life”. Although spiritual in context, the preacher’s message has secular and universal relevance that the length, breadth, and height of an all-embracing life means feeling passionate about life, and fueling that passion by always giving it our very best.
When discussing the essay in class, we interpreted that to life circumstances that we chose or found ourselves in, long or short, we would give our utmost efforts. As King Jr. pointed out, if we were street sweepers, we would make the streets gleam as if they were our greatest masterpieces.
For students and teachers alike, there’s a lesson to take away. For instance, college students would typically choose practical and work-oriented programs. If practicality and employability are gratifying goals, one can certainly feel excited about being the best student one can be. That to me, means student success in post-secondary school where the daily diet mixes inspiration with perspiration, but where one can turn an education into a labour of love with lifelong rewards.
I remember Sefan who was older than most of his college peers in our English class. He was a refugee from Bosnia where he had studied law. After considering vocational options here, he enrolled in an Office Administration diploma at our college, with hopes to eventually try law school. But as a newcomer, he had accepted menial work, plus two whole years of ESL before passing language tests for college admission.
When his peers asked how he, a privileged law student back home, was able to endure more than two years of hardship and uncertainties here, he would always say, “From danger, I found safety in Canada. Many like me died, but I lived. Many also lost family and left loved ones behind. To honor them, I wanted to heal, with my life here that’s like a gift. I was given free English classes, and maybe a chance to become a Canadian lawyer. My job … yes, I cleaned offices, but I did my very best, got a raise, and then it was time to start college. Studying office management is part of my future now. Hard times didn’t last forever. I know my life will be great.”
Like Larry, Sefan also goes after what he cherishes and loves what he pursues.
A lesson for me is that to love what I do, I need to take an interest in it, learn about it with a passion, and even become good at it – so that I can enjoy (or love doing) it. That doesn’t mean bypassing obstacles; instead, it means becoming more knowledgeable, solving problems with different options, turning hurdles into learning opportunities, gaining resilience in difficult situations, and even feeling more at ease in uncharted terrain.
Another lesson for me returns refreshingly to the beauty of lifelong learning. Knowing I can learn something new every day is an irresistible invitation. I can certainly study for a degree or credential, but I can also appreciate all the things under the sun that I can learn more about. New discoveries about the world and myself are such wonderful gifts that I ought to revel in them.
All in all, I completely agree with Larry and Sefan who do what they love and love what they do. Their powerful energy can even filter through to people around them, like Larry’s family, employees, and customers, and Sefan’s professors, peers, and employers. As I said before, what’s not to love about that?
by Mina Wong