Thinking about how lucky I have been

“Success is 10-percent luck and 90-percent hard work. And if you’re not lucky, just work 10-percent harder.” 

—Jim Chionsini, my long-time friend, business partner, and mentor.

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I consider myself lucky that my parents never bought me a car or paid for my college education. Not that they didn’t want to, it was more a case of not able to. I was lucky because they gave me something far more valuable: love, direction, and the understanding that success from the fruits of hard work is the most gratifying kind.

A Facebook story last week about some old photos reminded me of how lucky I’ve been in that regard. Thanks to the efforts of an exceptional individual who took the time and effort to locate members of Virgil Tolbert’s family in my hometown of Mount Pleasant, a number of old family photos are once again with his family. As often happens, that started me to thinking about a couple of things. One was my first real job working for Mr. Tolbert at Beall’s Department Store.

Well, let’s call it my first “employee” job with a regular paycheck. “Self-employed” jobs in junior high were my early sources of income. Things like collecting empty soft drink bottles along the roadsides to cash in for two cents each at the neighborhood grocery and mowing lawns in the summer for a dollar or two. While still in junior high, I graduated to working Saturdays at the Ben Franklin variety store on the downtown square. That paid 25-cents an hour for assembling bicycles and wagons, plus “trash management” and floor-sweeping and was paid in cash for hours worked. Simple economics, but when I spent that money on comic books or a movie, I quickly understood and appreciated just how many hours of work each of those expenditures represented.

Getting a paycheck every week at Beall’s was a warm and fuzzy feeling for a 15-year-old sophomore at MPHS. I had just purchased my first car, a 1951 Chevrolet acquired for $250 from Rex Kidwell at the Fina station. Working after school and Saturdays at the minimum wage of $1.25 an hour meant I could put gas in my car and still have spending money.

The best part, however, was getting to dress like a business professional and work all day Saturday selling clothes in the men’s department. A dress shirt and tie was the norm in most businesses then. Mr. Tolbert at Beall’s and my father, who was the manager of the Perry Brother’s five-and-dime just across the street, wore them every day. Getting to wear a dress shirt and tie every Saturday made me feel like “I had arrived” in the business world.

Mr. Tolbert was the best boss a 15-year-old “just arriving” in the business world could have had. Always wearing a smile and having something pleasant to say, he was courteous to employees and customers alike. He instilled by example the importance of making both feel welcome and appreciated.

More than a half-century later, I can say again, “I was lucky.” I’ve had many bosses, and I’ve been a boss as well. Most of the bosses I’ve had were individuals I’ve enjoyed working for and from whom I’ve learned a lot. Sure, there were a couple of stinkers along the way, but that happens, too.

So what was the second thing? The meaning of real success. I was lucky to learn from my parents, plus these individuals and others like them that success is best measured with a yardstick not marked by dollars. Also, that inspiring individuals to succeed through hard work, care, and respect for others who are also working hard to reach the same goals is more of a measure of someone than what they accumulate.

I’m thinking my luck has been better than 10-percent.

—Leon Aldridge

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Aldridge columns are published in these Texas newspapers: The Center Light and Champion, the Mount Pleasant Tribune,  the Rosenberg Fort Bend Herald, the Taylor Press, and the Alpine Avalanche.

© Leon Aldridge and A Story Worth Telling 2021. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Leon Aldridge and A Story Worth Telling with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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