Remember the old Smith Barney commercial with John Houseman? In it he uttered one of those unforgettable lines that will forever be emblazoned in my memory:
“Smith Barney – they make money the old-fashioned way – they eaaaaaarn it”
I was thinking about that line a lot lately, and the significance of “earning”.
The dictionary defines earn “to receive as return for effort” and “to come to be duly worthy of“.
In other words, when we truly “earn”, it was undoubtedly the result of a great deal of time and energy devoted to something.
Most of the time we think of this as getting paid for our labor, but there are other things we earn that are far more compelling when it comes to our daily lives:
Like, among many other things,
- Mastery (or Best in Field)
- Trophies (or Championships)
Think about how much more fulfilling some of these “earnings” are because you had to work so hard at them – when the effort itself made the difference.
The best way I can illustrate this is climbing a mountain. The top of a peak is just another point of latitude and longitude on this big planet, but yet standing at that point is far more valuable to most than standing on a street corner. Why? Because of what it took to get there.
I found another example in the newspaper over the weekend – it was a teenager named Shanequa who had just graduated from high school and was the first person in her family to be accepted into college.
Here’s how she described the experience (as told to columnist Bob Herbert):
“It has been very difficult. I had my ups and downs. There were some bad days, but I fought through them. My teachers were always pushing me: ‘Shanequa, you can do it. Don’t give up.’ When the acceptance letters started coming in the mail, I was like, ‘Yes! Yes! Yes!’ I wish I could do it all over again just to get the letters in the mail that said, ‘Shanequa, congratulations, you have been accepted at this university.’ ”
What Shanequa earned was well worth the big effort.
And then there’s Major Dick Winters. It was the 65th anniversary of D-day yesterday, and Major Winters was one of those men who so bravely landed and fought on the Normandy beaches, among those famous “Band Of Brothers”. I’ve written about him (and his book) on this blog, and I thought about him again today as I reflected on “earning”.
He came to mind because of all the things he’s earned in his lifetime, the one thing that was the most fulfilling to him was the respect of his fellow soldiers, achieved by a lot of hard work, sacrifice, courage, and selflessness.
And thus I stumbled yet again onto another “Secret of life” – Part III, actually.
“Never grow up, and never give up”.
To that, I now add this (with apologies to John Houseman):
“Achieve fulfillment the old-fashioned way – earn it”
Indeed, we are what we earn- and there really aren’t any short cuts.