We were always friends from our childhood days. And we made our plans, and we had to go our separate ways. I went on the road; you pursued an education.
Do you like your life? Can you find release? And will you ever change? Will you ever write your masterpiece?
Are you still in school? Living up to expectations? James. You were so relied upon. Everybody knows how hard you tried.
Hey. Oh, look at what a job you’ve done, carrying the weight of family pride.
You’ve been well behaved, you’ve been working hard. But will you always stay someone else’s dream of who you are? Do what’s good for you or you’re not good for anybody.
I went on the road; you pursued an education. James. How you gonna know for sure? Everything was so well organized.
Hey. Oh, now everything is so secure, and everybody else is satisfied. James
Do you like your life? Can you find release? And will you ever change? When will you write your masterpiece? Do what’s good for you or you’re not good for anybody.
Billy Joel penned these lyrics back in the 1970s, when he contrasted his life and the direction he had taken vs. that of a childhood friend. The song appeared on Billy’s “Turnstiles” album, and it’s actually hard to find a song on that album that isn’t beautifully phrased or handsomely written.
This song struck a nerve with me in 1976, as I was just beginning my journey at 16. I listen to the song today, and it hits me again in a very symmetrical way.
In the Seventies, it seemed to warn me about the hazards of settling for a life that I didn’t choose but felt obligated to live. I was very “duty bound,” even at 16. I fully believed there were people I belonged to and things I had to get done for the people I knew and loved. I thought I had to behave a certain way, accomplish certain grades, reach certain educational goals, etc.
Even after four liberating years away at college, I had this overwhelming sense of “duty.” Maybe it was “this Italian thing,” like Kaye says in Godfather II. Maybe it was because my father was so much that way and I learned my life lessons observing him. Maybe I was just one of those serious kids.
In any event, it was important to me to please everyone, to do well; not just OK, but well.
I recall asking a fellow high school buddy what he wanted to do after graduation, and he said he wanted to fly helicopters.
“Before college?” I asked.
He said, “No; instead of college.”
I shook my head. “You have to set the bar higher than that. We’re so young yet.”
He said, “Hey, one day I’ll be landing at the White House, dropping off the president.”
I said, “How do you know I’ll hire you?”
We laughed it off, but I was half serious. At that point in our lives, I thought it was our duty to reach really, really, high. He didn’t feel the same pull.
I was pushing my vision of a life agenda on everyone and wanting to accomplish things so badly that I was almost blind to other interpretations. Now, in retrospect, I see how close I came to missing the real message of the song and my life because I was so focused on success.
“Do what’s good for you or you’re not good for anybody…”
You’ve been well behaved, you’ve been working hard. But will you always stay someone else’s dream of who you are? Do what’s good for you or you’re not good for anybody…
My conclusion? It is the interpretation of success that’s so important.
Financial success? Status? A successful marriage? Successful at a job? Whatever it may be for YOU. The bottom line is, are you happy? Happy with the person you’ve become and the person that is evolving every day?
And as corny as it sounds, the first time I started to really get it, to really sort it out, was when I began dating my wife. We hadn’t been together long, and she was being very accommodating keeping up with my zillion obligations, but it must have been starting to wear on her.
We had packed a picnic dinner and were sitting at a table at the marina just as the sun began to set. Ten feet away was a phone booth, and I called a friend to see what time his party started that evening and if he needed me to bring anything.
I came back to the table and started to pack things up. “We gotta go,” I said. “We need to pick up some ice for the party.”
She looked at me quietly (everything she did was quiet and soft) and she said, “Are we really going to leave this place and this sunset to go get ice for people I don’t even know?”
I stood there looking at her, exhaled (quietly not angrily), and sat back down. I knew I was looking at the rest of my life right there. To this day, I can remember every detail; her fragrance, her manner, the tone of her voice.
I realized I was staring at the life I was about to choose, not the one I felt obligated to fulfill.
“Do what’s good for you or you’re not good for anybody…”
We missed the party. In fact, we began to miss a lot of things. We replaced them with things that became the building blocks and cornerstones of our life together.
That was 25 years ago, and we’re still missing things–but none of the things that matter. My obligations are now to myself as well as to the rest of my circle.
And for me, the measure of daily success is whether or not you greet each day with a smile. It’s that simple.
Serving your family and God gives you an awful lot of inner peace, you see, and I can look back now and see how challenges were put in my path and answers were provided to questions I didn’t even ask. The success is all over my face. I’m a happy man.
Last week, without warning, my car wouldn’t start. It was raining. I had the hood up, but didn’t even know what I was looking for at 5 a.m. Suddenly the door opened, and Nicco was there (he’s working and finishing college and was about to go work out before work).
“Problem?” he asked.
“Won’t start and I have a lot to do at the office today,” I said.
“I’ll take you,” he said.
I hopped in his car and we talked for the 20 minutes it took to get to my office. We hadn’t talked that long in a long time. Life does that when people work and grow into their own priorities.
When I got out of the car, I was smiling. My car would need a tow and a fuel pump, I later learned, but I believe divine intervention put Nicco in the driveway at 5 a.m. that morning.
He needed to remember that I was proud of him, and he needed to hear he was on track. I remember wanting to know that, too, at 23. I was amazed how much he needed to say, and it came pouring out.
People who are driven often wonder if they are going too fast or fast enough. So I really felt good when I told him to relax and be patient, that life comes together for a success-driven young man around the age of 30, not 20. This I had learned.
He looked almost relieved. I realized the message in it for me: being able to tell him what to think by remembering what I needed to hear at that time.
The real power and passion in life comes from embracing that which you decide is important. Once you decide, you must tend to it, maintain it, embrace it, to make it truly yours.
Do what’s good for you or you’re not good for anybody.
Ron Ciancutti is the Purchasing Manager for Cleveland Metroparks. He is not on Facebook, but he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.