It’s much more fulfilling to be grateful for what you have, rather than resentful of what you don’t have.
My mother was born on this day in 1939 in Gantt, Hungary. She would have been 81 years old today, but she passed from cancer on February 15th, 1990, more than 30 years ago at the tender age of 50. I miss her dearly and often think sometimes, life isn’t fair, as she was a saint in my mind and didn’t deserve to leave this earth so early. Obviously, God had other plans for her. Just as Jack Welch told me personally back in 2012 when I asked him who influenced his life the most, it was my mother whom had the biggest influence on mine. I dedicate this blog, the Kiraly Kronicle, to Rose Kiraly.
It’s now Day 18, three days past the original 15-day stay-at-home order and three days into the new 30-day order, to slow the spread of COVID-19 or the Corona Virus here in the U.S. The order has largely advised all Americans with guidance amongst other things, to stay at home, and only go out for food shopping, some exercise, or if you have a medical emergency. It would be an incredible understatement to merely acknowledge the disruption to normal life that this global pandemic has caused the human race. For some of us, reflecting on the totality of it, it’s more of an inconvenience. Yet for others, it’s a significant event that will undoubtedly change their lives forever – a forced economic shutdown causing the loss of jobs, business bankruptcies, and all the stress-related illnesses and consequences that can and will result. Life may never be the same, and that’s after the potential death toll of 100k-200k in the U.S. alone.
I won’t attempt to belabor the science or judge the decisions made or not made to address the outbreak, as the intentions are good and noble – to limit the loss of life. And of course, the worst of this is truly those that will lose their lives and suffer from the illness, as well as their families and friends. My commentary will address the millions of Americans whose lives have changed in an instant, as a result of being asked, and in some cases told, to stay home for 45 days right now and what could be longer, but that are also currently still employed and getting paid.
I ask you, is it really that bad? Is it really that much of an inconvenience? Now let me acknowledge right upfront that I realize this isn’t a vacation, and that you’d prefer to be at your work location rather than home, right? I get that you are most likely pumping out critical work and meeting via Zoom, FaceTime, Microsoft Teams, and/or conference calls with your direct reports and other employees. And although many of you are indeed saving hours every day not commuting (I know, I did it for a few decades, an hour – two hours one way, almost every day), I’m surmising that most of that time and then some is being totally consumed by childcare, preparing meals, cleaning, etc.
Beyond the food and paper product hoarders that stormed the supermarkets and emptied the shelves, that largely still remain empty today, weeks later, is it really that bad? Well, it’s all relative as I like to say. Relative to what we had, it’s damned inconvenient. But for those of us either retired or working from home, it’s nowhere near the struggle that my parents and 10s of millions of other immigrants had, from mostly Europe, but certainly other parts of the globe as well, as they migrated here during the 1900s, largely escaping economic, religious, and political persecution in their homelands.
My parents came to America in the early 1950s as teenagers, with nothing but dreams of a better life. They, like millions of others, literally escaped the insurgence of Communism, in their case, the Russians invading and occupying Hungary. My mother was of German descent, but was born and lived in Hungary, as a result of government rule that forced them to leave Germany. She was educated through high school, but their family, three brothers, and four sisters, didn’t have much in the way of material wealth. My father was born just outside of Budapest, in Szentendre, lost his mother when he was only seven years old, was largely uneducated, and had a strict father that put him to work on their farm and family business, a delicatessen. They actually had some property and possessions that had value. But in an instant, their lives would drastically change. Although I don’t know the story of my mother that well, my father told me that his father ended up selling most of their possessions, and as economic circumstances resulted in a period of hyperinflation, their money became almost worthless overnight. Loading up what few possessions they had in a wagon on Christmas Eve, they fled Hungary while the Russian army was only a few miles behind, otherwise, this Kiraly family here in the USA might not exist today.
So they both came to America in their teens – couldn’t speak the language, didn’t have a dime in their pockets, but somehow saw America as an opportunity for a new and better life, since their home countries couldn’t or wouldn’t defend them. Once here, they knew in all likelihood that they would struggle to make a living, but they always yearned for a better life for their kids, and somehow they and their families foresaw that America, was their best chance. They were a different generation of immigrants. Their generation stood in awe of America, were grateful just to get here, and would literally take any work that was provided just to put food on the table. And once they obtained citizenship, they considered themselves Americans before they referred to themselves as Germans or Hungarians. They weren’t resentful nor victims.
As a family we were happy and content and had memorable times together, working and playing, even with a lower middle-class upbringing. And although I wished at the time that I could do what some of the more wealthy kids were doing, I appreciate it a whole heck of a lot more now, and wouldn’t change it for a minute. The discipline of working ever since I was ten years old, wearing hand me down clothes, fighting my brothers for the last scoop of potatoes at dinner, paying my own way for almost everything including college, created a hunger in me to earn everything in life. Learning to appreciate everything you have is wonderful thing. Recognizing that sacrifice, hard work, persistence, determination and drive really do pay off, not just financially, but in who you become, the family you build, and the values you learn and teach, couldn’t be more rewarding.
My mother suggested to me, recognizing that I was studious and capable of attending college, a reputable engineering school in NJ. Long story short, I was the first to graduate college in my family of three brothers and a sister, back in 1986. The standard of living I enjoy today with my family, wouldn’t be fathomable to either of my parents, if they were still alive. I remember my father telling me that I should learn a trade, since that was his vocation. Both mom and dad always taught us however, to work hard, sacrifice, and be grateful for what you do have. They achieved their goal for all of their kids, as my brothers, sister, and I, all enjoy a life here in America that far exceeded anything they ever imagined.
My kids, all three of them, will all have graduated college just over a year from now, and why? Because we had a better quality of life than my parents, and we want our kids to have a better quality of life than we have, and that’s all possible because of education, freedom, and the pain of discipline instilled and passed on from our parents, to me and my wife, and onto our kids. You can do almost anything you want here in the USA, anything your heart desires, and the standard of living we enjoy here, is unmatched anywhere in the world by far.
I enjoyed a corporate life for almost 35 years, working at four historic, iconic corporations, mostly in the U.S. and for a short while in Canada. I am incredibly grateful to all of them, and particularly, the thousands of people I came to know and work with, as well as the wonderful leaders and mentors that shaped me over the years. They imparted an abundance of knowledge and wisdom that provided a solid foundation upon which to build, and also entrenched the management and leadership principles that I have practiced, honed, and imparted to those I have been responsible for through the years.
Moving forward I want to do things differently, to ensure I have no regrets and to pay it forward as they say, and do the same for those of you either entering or trying to navigate the corporate world and business. My experience has provided many career and life lessons to share. And my New Jersey upbringing along with some pretty tough European immigrant parents, has given me “brass balls” as my father used to say. So I’m going to be direct, speak with purpose and conviction, and dare to entertain and inspire you for as long as I can.
It’s time to chase dreams. Today is Day 1.