As a medical student during the early nineties, I used to ‘decompress’ by reading light-hearted fiction; warm, simple stories about normal human problems. No War and Peace for me. Too ambitious. At the time, I liked to read Maeve Binchy. You’ve probably seen her fiction displayed in bookstores. One story in particular, titled “Marble Arch”, about a young female entrepreneur, struck a chord. By a lot of unglamorous hard work, she’s learned to make a living selling hand-stitched handbags. Her family is nonplussed that she left a salaried position selling cosmetics to strike out on her own:
“Her mother had worked regularly and quietly in a restaurant. She said that her one ambition was that Sophie should never have a job which meant walking and standing, and dealing with dirty plates and difficult customers. She was happy when Sophie was selling nice, fresh, good-smelling oils and paints for people’s faces. She was worried when she seemed to become a person of no account sitting in a little stall shouting her wares to the public.”
It’s an attitude I heard growing up – where a nice safe credentialed job was lauded, while business was seen as mercurial and unsafe. Well, starting a small business is risky. The story continues:
“Sophie sighed, thinking how little everyone around her knew about business…….Really she had made very little impression on anyone, with her own businesslike attitudes. Nobody realized that it wasn’t easy to be organized and disciplined and to make money. It took a lot of time, and worry, and ate into all those hours you could be sitting around and enjoying yourself. Nobody ever got drawn into her belief that people might be on this earth to work hard.”
Nobody ever got drawn into her belief that people might be on this earth to work hard. Sounds like every lecture ever given to me – as a young person – by my parents. I think they were exasperated by my youthful ideas about work and life. I thought, I really thought, that everything should be sweet, easy and pleasant. Ah, that dangerous expectation: that work should always and everywhere be fulfilling, whatever that means.