Spirit Matters: Real success not defined by dollars

I was a wide-eyed 21-year-old when I moved out of my parents’ house in Streator to Bloomington-Normal, to work a corporate job.

It was an exciting time for me as I spread my wings, and began to explore who I was in what I thought then was a bustling city.

I found a place to live, and it gave me a sense of pride and responsibility to pay my own bills, and to have some spending money left.

I discovered where I liked to shop, and delighted in decorating my apartment, my way.

And, I socialized with a group of friends from home, in the early years I lived there.

The insurance company where I worked was a sprawling entity of its own. With its four-story atrium, in the midst of four four-story office buildings and the 12-story tower in which I worked, there was much to discover, both physical and experiential. Simply walking from the parking lot, a block away, to the office each morning, was a journey of its own, especially in the snowy and bitterly cold wintertime.

It was in this massive place I met co-workers, some of whom I remain in contact with on social media. These coworkers-turned-friends were a godsend for me as they helped acclimate me to working life, and living on my own. I also met people in other departments, with whom I was friendly.

Initially, I was fortunate to have a window space behind my desk. In a department with an open office, with roughly 90 or so employees/desks on top of each other, having a window so accessible was hard to come by. I did not take it for granted.

Eventually the newness wore off, and life began to turn into a grind. It was during these times that I learned perseverance and fortitude. But more importantly, it was during these times Divine Love began to reveal itself to me, after my challenges became too heavy to carry on my own.

Those purgative circumstances turned out to be some of the greatest gifts of my life, although I would not have told you that then, nor would I have thought it possible.

There were times back then when I felt mired deep in the mud of inertia, as though my life’s situations were never going to change or improve.

Of course, they did change, in many unexpected and adventurous ways. And it has been through each of those successive experiences that I have grown even more personally, professionally, and spiritually.

I learned fairly early on that the corporate life is incompatible with my personality and life’s purpose. Doing something meaningful is essential to my wellbeing physically, psychologically and spiritually. The biggest hurdle I had to overcome was trusting there was life outside of corporate America, that the comfort and security of a good wage and benefits was not enough to satisfy my soul.

I know now, though, with the clarity that only the passage of time can give, that my eight years in this position were not a waste of time. They taught me many valuable life lessons.

Last year, I had the opportunity to return to these buildings for the first time since I walked out the door for the last time 22 years ago. It was a surreal experience that allowed me to finally close the door once and for all on that period of potential.

A friend and mentor of mine and I were on the phone this week. She recently asked me to give a blessing at a party she was having, and I felt honored to do so. She spoke of how my words deeply touched her and others at the party. I responded by saying this is the work I am called to do. I don’t get paid so much in financial compensation, but the soul dollars I am paid with are far more valuable to me, anyway.

Back when I worked in front of that window, I had a coffee mug in the top left drawer of my desk. There was a quote on it misattributed to Ralph Waldo Emerson, as follows:

“To laugh often and much: To win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children, to earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; to appreciate beauty, to find the best in others, to leave the world a bit better whether by a healthy child, a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition; to know even one life has breathed easier because you lived. This is to have succeeded.”

With that said, Bessie A. Stanley is believed to have authored it in a 1905 essay contest. I think she was onto something.

Today, I know she was.

SPIRIT MATTERS is a weekly column that examines experiences common to the human spirit. Contact Jerrilyn Zavada Novak at jzblue33@yahoo.com to share how you engage your spirit in your life and community.