When we think of Work, our natural inclination is to think of employment or a job. But work is so much more than that. It is a philosophy. A philosophy that implies that work, or effort, in all facets of our lives, is paramount to personal responsibility and self-respect.
From a very young age, my parents, first generation children of European immigrants, instilled in me the concept of hard work. ‘Nothing in life is free.’ ‘No one is going to GIVE you anything.’ ‘Get a job.’ They came from poor beginnings and through effort and force of will alone, built an amazing life for themselves and their families. They sacrificed, toiled, and worked to build that life. And in watching them, I learned some important lessons. Not initially, of course. As a child and then a young adult, I did not fully grasp why they placed so much value on getting things done, and getting them done right. As I got older, particularly once entering into recovery from the disease of addiction, the value of work and effort became more clear to me.
The carnage that I had created in my active addiction was more than financial. Yes, I needed to obtain gainful employment again, to be self-sufficient and repair my poor fiscal situation. But I also found that I was going to need to put effort into other areas of my life if I was to fully mend the damage I had done and to evolve towards being a person of integrity. A person that I could respect. And it was daunting.
I realized that it was going to take effort to rebuild my broken family relationships. It was going to take effort to fix the friendships I had trampled upon. It was going to take effort to restore my legal standing. It was going to take effort to grow my spiritual connection. And it was going to take effort to become a man who was honest, caring, put others first and behaved with integrity. The work on these things was not easy. The repair and growth did not come quickly. In some cases, I am still working to resolve those issues. In the beginning, it was frustrating. Because it was difficult. I could not see the possibility that I would ever achieve the goals I had set. I wanted to give up and just accept that I was going to be miserable. From somewhere, the thoughts of how my parents overcame their trials and tribulations gave me the motivation to make the effort. Even if I was unsuccessful, I was still going to put in the work. It is the trying which counts. It is having the courage to make the effort, in the face of possible failure, is that which is of real substance. I was going to work, in all areas of my life, to try to better myself and my situation. It was in coming to that decision that I found true self-respect.
In making those efforts, slowly, over time, my life has changed. My employment is a career that I would have never imagined, and one I love dearly. My family trusts me and I have corrected the wrongs that I did to them. My fiscal standing is now one of which I am proud. My legal situation has been resolved, and while I am still a felon, that does not define who I am, nor does it affect my employability. But most importantly, I continue to work to be a person of integrity. One who does what he says he is going to. One who can be trusted. One who shows up. One who wants to help others. And that means that I have to continue to work. I must put forth the effort to maintain and grow those areas of my life. Work is not just getting up and going to a job. Work is effort – in all facets of my life – to continue to take personal responsibility for myself, and to grow as a human being. Work, Works. It is the cornerstone of self-respect.
Paul L. Scudo is the Executive Director of Step Denver
and is in recovery from the disease of addiction.