The attitude of success (it’s contagious)

It’s well understood among the literary set that in order to become a good writer, one must first become a prolific reader. It makes perfect sense; there’s no better way to learn the intricacies of composition than through daily exposure to the greats.

I’m currently halfway through a memoir (of sorts) titled, Scratch Beginnings: Me, $25, and the Search for the American Dream. The book is the brainchild of Adam Shepard, who at the time of publication had recently graduated from college, was disillusioned with the popular theory that bottom-up success in the United States was no longer possible, and set out to prove it by abandoning his hometown and everything he owned and working his way up from a homeless shelter to gainful employment, an apartment, a car, and $2,500 in the bank at the end of one year.

I’ll spare you the extended book report (especially as I’ve yet to finish the book), but one of the things that has resonated with me from the very first page, one of the things I hope to absorb in my quest to become a good person, as opposed to just a good writer, is Shepard’s assertion that success is based in large part on attitude. In the book, after landing a job at a moving company, Shepard is amazed at the attitude displayed by coworkers whose sum successes in life measured just a fraction of what he’d accomplished on paper at the start of his experiment:

“Most of us had dropped out or barely graduated from high school, and we were destined to be blue-collar workers for the rest of our days. But that’s just it!…Nobodies…were the difference makers, legends in their own world. They were providing a service that was so very necessary, and they were very good at what they were doing. There was a huge contrast, in attitude and otherwise, that separated guys…(who took their job seriously and wanted to excel, and wanted to be proud of what they had accomplished) from the guys who you could tell were coming to work just to make a few bucks to pay their rent…They were professionals, seasoned veterans who had made sacrifices to put themselves in a position to do things no one else could do. They were average guys performing above average feats.”

The power of positive thinking and pride in a job well done is not a new concept, and certainly not new to folks who spend their days on the credit union front lines. I’m sure many of you explain to your most disenfranchised members that with hard work, savings and a positive attitude, anything is possible. I’d wager that the value of hard work and positivity is even a prevailing theme at staff meetings, recognition events, and even your daily interactions with coworkers. But when was the last time you truly internalized your own advice?

I’m going to be honest and say that it’s been a long time for me. I’m sad to say that after living in the city my whole life, my perception of success has become bloated and grandiose. I’m suspicious of simple kindness and rarely put myself out there for strangers. I don’t know any of my neighbors. And yet when I look back at the advantages I’ve had, there’s no excuse for me not to wake up every morning, not just thankful, but energetically committed to being the very best version of myself and setting an example for everyone around me. Working hard with a smile on my face — if it was good enough for my great-grandfather, who lost his leg in a West Virginia coal mine and still managed to show up for working every morning, it’s good enough for me.

It’s such a simple concept. In fact, I’d wager that there are a thousand and one columns dedicated to reminding credit union leaders about the importance of showing up and doing good for others. But I’d like to encourage you to turn your energies inward. Reevaluate your own work ethic, your internal dialogue. Pay close attention not to what you’re saying to the outside world, but what you’re feeling inside yourself. And be honest. Is there work you’ve been putting off that you just don’t want to do? Are you caught up in the trappings of our modern, material-based culture? Are you so caught up in your day-to-day checklist that you’ve failed to absorb the fact that your every expression, greeting, and willingness to personally demonstrate restraint, positive habits and hard work could make a difference to even the casual observer?

I wonder how much better off the world would be if those of us who grew up privileged with no real experience at the bottom of society were forced to give up our accumulation of wealth and start again, re-learning the importance of mental fortitude, work without instant reward, the kindness of strangers and the hope that comes with each new day. Because, as Shepard asserts, the attitude of success is contagious. The attitude of success is contagious, and those on the front lines need to catch the disease because the world is watching.

Hilary Reeves

Hilary Reeves

Hilary Reeves spent 10 years as a journalist before leaving the newsroom to become a freelance writer and editor. She currently works as a consultant for CU Breakthrough, a service ... Web: Details