Wanted: A Cross to Bear
I have subscribed to a gym for over twenty years now, and in the past few years, I’ve added a weekly spinning class to my regular workout. The teacher is great, the workout is tough, and the results are definitely evident. But still, I HATE spinning! Why? Because I find it really hard. In almost every lesson I find myself wondering what will be over first, the class or my life. So far, thank god, the class has come to an end first, but you can never tell…
In the past two months, I’ve considered myself lucky – I had so many excuses, each of them perfect, that caused me to miss spinning: the ‘flu, work, guests – all of which I welcomed with joy as a dignified exemption from that unpleasant hour. But after asking myself if it might not be best to give up the dubious pleasure, I decided to go back anyway.
And when I did, I found that besides moving my muscles and exercising my lungs, there was something else going on: the moment I started pedaling, my mind left the dark, noisy room and departed for other horizons, and new solutions to professional dilemmas and ideas for new posts began to take shape. After that, all it takes is a little while for the idea to mature, and the road to the keyboard is a short one.
This small personal enlightenment came to mind during a conversation with a group of young people, the third generation in a family-owned business, after a session that earned the title “Self-Actualization without Economic Necessity”. The participants’ initial response to the title was failure to understand the connection between the first and second parts of the sentence. Self-actualization is important, and sometimes hard, but what does economic necessity have to do with it?
During the session the message began to sink in, and afterwards, one of the participants said, “I feel that for us, of all people, achieving self-actualization is tougher. For people who have some sort of cross to bear – who suffer from financial hardship, a tough family situation, health problems or a damaged emotional past, getting motivated is natural, even essential. It’s the hope of escaping from that bad place. But we have to make a special effort to take the journey of searching and building ourselves, we have to keep on swimming against the tide of comfort, our parents’ desire to protect us, and that inner voice that keeps telling us that we can do without it.”
His words were true and accurate, although they could only be voiced in front of a supportive audience, where there’s no danger of encountering reactions such as, “Yeah, first-world problems…” This is especially true for third or fourth generationers to family wealth, where the hardships overcome by the founding grandfather and the example he sets of self-actualization are no less than a family legend. Their parents tell them to “do something”, but when they encounter a difficulty or barrier, the immediate message is, “Okay, so don’t. You’ll find something else”. Within a short time, the advantages of a secure life and readily available funds become a key barrier in making one’s way to a meaningful, satisfying occupation.
In 2003, Jamie Johnson, fourth-generation heir to the Johnson & Johnson empire, produced a movie called “Born Rich”, in which he interviews his young friends, descendants of America’s wealthiest families, about their lives. Johnson says that the reason he made the film was to find out why so many people around him, who supposedly had everything, had accomplished so little or had lived such a tragic life. Johnson succeeds in showing how available funds, parents’ messages and the absence of a hard-working role model become an insurmountable wall that leaves these young people locked in the misery of meaninglessness, causing them to become withdrawn and alienated.
Why I am writing about this is to tell parents who succeeded themselves, or who are enjoying their parents’ success, that their children face a tough challenge. So before you launch off into the “When I was your age” speech – make an effort to understand them.
As for the young people themselves, I ask them to look their situation in the eye and recognize that this difficulty is an inseparable part of their lives.
And the solutions? There are solutions, and there are the sons and daughters of… who succeeded in finding their way and are willing to talk about it. Listening to them carefully reveals two things: first, their own personal cross that led to their need to take action, work things out and be different. The cross isn’t always obvious and doesn’t necessarily take the form of a physical disability, orphanhood or a broken home. It can be far more subtle – a parental model communicating a sense of missed opportunity, sibling rivalry or a promising start as an athlete that ended in premature disappointment. What is certain is that the cross and the accompanying pain are highly individual and may be hard to notice on the outside, but are part of the private individual and very significant to him or her. The second element is perseverance in the face of hardship. Sticking to one’s guns, even when the going gets tough, when things don’t go well or are painful, and even when one’s parents and friends say, “Why are you putting yourself through this? You don’t need to!”
I’m not naïve and I know it’s much easier to insist on enduring the aches and pains of spinning than to persevere when things are difficult and the people around you are against it. Still, the point of my trite little example is that this is a matter of choice. When you identify a need and choose hardship and perseverance, the rewards will come. One way or another, I decided to keep on going to spinning class.
In closing, I want to thank the young people I meet who are actively looking for their path and coping. You make me feel that my work is meaningful, and there’s no greater gift than this!
As always, I’m happy to attach a photograph to this post, taken by photographer Yuval Dvir (www.yuvaldvir.com). If you have any questions or suggestions for subjects to write about, please send them to my private email address: firstname.lastname@example.org.