Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Things I Have Learned

Years ago, fresh out of college, I scoured through the Sunday New York Times seeking my first full-time job. Unlike others who had trust funds or parents that had connections to get a high paying first job, the great majority of we Coney Island Houses kids had to find our own way in the world.

I circled a posting for a Brooklyn-based job, called, and scheduled an appointment. I honestly cannot remember what the job was, and in truth it doesn't matter.

I arrived at some dingy storefront. The windows were filthy, and I remember struggling to see through the grime to see what kind of business this was. I opened the glass door and entered, only to find a small, dark, depressing vestibule inside.

There was an old metal desk facing the door, and behind it sat what appeared to me to be an "old", angry woman (in hindsight, I now imagine that she was likely in her late forties, but at that point in my life, she was OLD). I identified myself, and she handed me a clipboard. The board contained a form for personal information, and a one hundred fifty question test. Fifty questions were math, fifty were reading comprehension, and fifty questions were for a personality profile.

I had been a good student, so the prospect of such a test didn't frighten me in the least. I completed the task, and returned the form and test to the woman. She nodded, and she carried the clipboard into an inner office.

Sometime later she returned, and summoned me through the door for my interview.

The inner office was another darkened space, and once again there was a worn metal desk inside. Behind this sat a middle aged man, who motioned me to sit at one of two metal office chairs (the old style, with green vinyl seat and back).

"Steve", he said, "you scored extremely well on the math and english parts".
"Thank you", I replied.
"However, you scored in the middle of the pack on the personality profile."
"May I ask, what does that mean?"
"Well, Steve, that means that the people that design this test don't feel you're particularly suited for this career."

This puzzled me, so I asked to see how the test had been graded. He slid the completed test across the desk to me. My eyes scanned down, until I found a question and answer with a large red "X" on it.

Question: Do you like to work around your house?
My answer: Yes

"Sir, does this mean that I don't like to work about my house?"
"No, but what it means is that the people who created this test feel that people that like to work around their houses don't do particularly well in this particular career."
"Sir, perhaps there is another explanation that they might not have considered when they made this test. In my case, I live with my mother and father in a city housing apartment. If you ask me if I like to work around my house, I'd answer yes, because this would mean that I actually LIVE in a house, which, compared to where I live, sounds pretty good."

Clearly, this confused the s**t out of him.

"Steve, let's move on. What are your goals?"

I was twenty years old, a pimple faced punk, and at that point in my life you could fit the sum of my knowledge in a thimble. I thought for a moment, and then replied:

"I would like three hundred people to come to my retirement party!"
"WHAT? That's the stupidest thing I've ever heard! What does that mean?"
"Well, if three hundred people come to my retirement party, it will mean that I was somewhat successful, had a large number of friends, and that I had affected a great number of people who wanted to help me celebrate an important moment in my life."
"That is RIDICULOUS", he said.

I stood, smiled, and shook the man's hand. "Thank you for your time. It's clear that this isn't the right place for me. Good luck finding an appopriate candidate." I left, walked through the vestibule, and out into the Brooklyn summer sun.

It is now many years later, and I honestly have the same exact goal. I am extremely proud of this, and proud that at twenty years of age I was astute enough to realize what is important in life. You know what? SCREW that guy.

As with many of us, I seem to spend more time and energy reminiscing about the past, and carefully itemizing all I've done, and listing all the things I still want to accomplish. Lately, I started compiling mental lists of things I know to be true, and please allow me to share these with you:

1) Embrace the handful of people that are close to you, appreciate them for the gifts they give, and let them know on a regular basis that you love them. Let your partner and children and special people know you love them, even if you don't particularly like them all the time. It's important to let them know.

2) LOVE what you do, whether this is about a hobby or your chosen career. If you don't love what you do, you'll never be happy, no matter what anyone tries to make you believe.

3) Be the best you can be at all you care about. Awaken every morning and strive to be better.

4) Life is but a series of moments. Remember the special ones, whether they be positive or negative moments. Each one is part of the journey, and each moment teaches us much about the world and our place in it. Dwell on the positive ones, but don't forget the negative ones, or you will be destined to make the same mistakes again.

5) Remember who you are, and be comfortable in your own skin. Don't waste time and energy trying to be someone and something you aren't.

6) Let go of anger. It will ruin you.

7) Be grateful of all the people that helped mould you. In your case, my dear friends from Coney Island Houses, I would not be the person I am today if it weren't for each and every one of you. For this, please accept my heart-felt thanks, because I love each and every one of you for this. The truth is that we didn't always love one another, but now, through my middle aged eyes, I know that you are part of the fabric of who I am, and my life woulnd't have been nearly as full if not for you. THANK YOU ALL!

8) Be cognizant of the fact that we are well down the path of our lives. Do whatever is possible to do everything you want to do. Don't be that person that departs this place regretting things you didn't get to do. No one can do everything, but do as much as you can.

9) Always evaluate that list of things you want to do and alter it, as this list will always change as we grow and evolve.

10) Never lose the youthful enthusiasm we had a teenagers. Always be that sixteen year old kid in the big park.

I don't know about you, but I intend to live forever, and I will always strive to collect more special moments, hopefully overwhelmingly positive ones.

Thanks to Joey, who created this blog and who lead many of us to Facebook (where many of us rekindled additional cherished memories), I have come to see you all as part of my extended family. I love you all, though not nearly as much as I love my wife and kids. :)

Steve Lattman
Coney Island Houses Alumni


Randy M Stein said...

Hi Steve, this was truly a magnificent inspiring letter to read. Thank you, Randy Stein

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