I was at a dinner party talking to a lawyer who had quit corporate law to work as a prosecutor and then a defense attorney. For most of the night, he told me how much he loved his job and never looked back but, at one point, he grew rueful and noted that he was disappointed he was not making more money. “I live near the guys from Goldman Sachs and they don’t work that many more hours than me but they make a helluva a lot more,” he said.
“Whatever,” I said, “You’re happy in your job. Journalists don’t make a lot of money either but I love what I do and, when I was young, I never even thought about ‘making money.’ All I wanted was to make money writing somehow.”
He looked at me and said, “The difference between us is that you’ve made peace with it. I haven’t.”
“There’s another reason as well,” I said. “I grew up in a Bronx housing project. You grew up with well-heeled parents in Manhattan and went to an elite private school. I appreciate everything I have…all the time.”
He thought for a moment and said, “You’re right.”
I’ve thought about this for a long time now. If there’s one great thing about growing up without a lot of money or status, it’s that everything you achieve in life is a bonus — if you have the right attitude. At least, that’s how I feel about it. Take cars. My parents never had a car (I taught my father how to drive). When I took driver’s ed, it was the third time I’d been inside a car in my life. I barely knew where the gas and brake pedals were. To this day, I get a small thrill out of getting in MY car and going wherever I want whenever I want. I’m not kidding; I still feel it.
I was in Los Angeles last week and the correspondent I was with kept telling me I should switch hotels to his better, nicer hotel. I told him that I had a certain nostalgia for my hotel and that I would never switch and, moreover, it was perfectly fine with me. I didn’t tell him why.
The first time I ever stayed at that hotel — working for CBS News — I looked out the back of the hotel across the street and noticed the old motel I had once stayed in when I was a college kid going cross-country with no more than $400 total in my pocket (and I did not have a single credit card). It was all boarded up and shut down, and today it’s no longer even there.
But seeing that old motel made me realize that I had literally crossed the street in my life. I was no longer on that side. The hotel I now am loyal to has a pool and views of the Pacific. I don’t need any more. I am beyond happy to be there, not facing the road anymore. And when I walk on the beach and I see the sun going down, I thank God and good fortune for putting me here, at this moment in time, when I can still realize how lucky I’ve been. I appreciate it more than I can say….