ONE SUPER LIFE
"There ain't no free
lunches in this country. And don't go spending your whole life
commiserating that you got raw deals. You've got to say, 'I think that if
I keep working at this and want it bad enough I can have it.'"
A long time ago when
I was still wet behind the ears (and maybe I could admit to being just the
least bit full of myself), a reverend sat me down and told me a story. As
I remember it now 30-plus years later, it went something like this:
There was once a
king who wanted more than anything else to be wise. Not only did he want
to be wise, but he wanted to be the wisest person in the world. But being
a king he had so many other things to do, so he asked his most trusted
advisor to get all the wisdom of the world together in one place for him,
so he could take it all in.
So while the king
was off gallivanting around the world doing kingly stuff, his trusted
advisor studied the wisdom of the world.
Every now and then
the king would check in on the advisor. “Still working on it,” was all he
Finally after more
than ten years of study, the advisor told the king he had something to
show him. He took the king into a library and showed him all the books he
had accumulated and read. Row upon row of bookshelves were filled with
books large and small. “Here it is, in this library, all the wisdom in the
world,” he said with much satisfaction.
The king was
absolutely dismayed. “No, no, no, this is not what I had in mind at all,”
he told his advisor. It must be much more compact, much more distilled,
more condensed. “I don’t have time to read all these books,” the king said
indignantly. “I’m an extremely busy man! You must take all the time you
need to cull it, condense it even more, purify it, cut it down to its
essence,” he told his most trusted advisor.
The advisor was
disappointed, but resolved to redouble his efforts and get all the wisdom
of the world refined into a much tinier version. He worked on it many more
years, and finally, triumphantly, he came to the king. “I’ve got it, here
it is in my hand, all the wisdom of the world in one book!” he said
The king was
unimpressed. He was so busy he didn’t have time to read a book. “Take more
time and condense it down even further,” he told the trusted advisor.
So the King’s
advisor spend many more years re-reading all the books and talking to all
the wise people he knew, digesting and thinking about all the wisdom in
the world. After a long time, one day it finally hit him.
“I’ve got it,” he
finally shouted. He ran to the king. “I’ve got it, I’ve got it! He said.
“All the wisdom of the world, and I’ve got it boiled down to one
“Let me have it,”
said the king.
“There’s no such
thing as a free lunch,” said the trusted advisor.
"Freedom is just Chaos, with better lighting."
-Alan Dean Foster
The real meaning of
the reverend’s little story, that a person or society cannot ever really
get – or give – something for nothing, wasn’t lost on me, even if I was
still a bit wet-eared.
Even if something
appears to be free, there is always a cost, hidden or otherwise, to the
person accepting the freebie or to society as a whole even though that
cost may be distributed among many.
This is not to say
that there are not times when a cost should be distributed among many – we
can all think of appropriate situations where you and I should help bear
the cost of something in the name of equalization or balance or helping
less fortunate members of our society. But that’s a subject for another
time and place.
No matter how you
might feel about all the wisdom of the world being condensed into that one
sentence, there is some truth there for supers to think about.
"Because you are in
control of your life. Don't ever forget that. You are what you are because
of the conscious and subconscious choices you have made."
People often are
astounded or outraged (or both) that a super and his family get to live in
a nice apartment in a nice building in a nice neighborhood in the greatest
city in the world which they could otherwise not afford, and for which
they (the onlookers) have to pay dearly, all for free.
But is it really
free? Of course it isn’t, as all who’ve been walking in super shoes
already know. There’s no such thing as free lunch? How about, there’s no
such thing as free rent?
It’s really true. We
pay for it many times over, and sometimes the price is too high to pay. We
know supers who’ve moved on to ‘greener pastures’ even though it meant
paying rent again, all in the pursuit of peace of mind, a sense of
contentment, the knowledge that their off-time will not be rudely
interrupted by a resident with an overgrown sense of entitlement, awfully
bad timing and an overly demanding demeanor.
Being a super, and
being really good at it, calls for a great balancing act that is beyond
some people’s comprehension or ability to pull it off.
"We can be sure that the
greatest hope for maintaining equilibrium in the face of any situation
rests within ourselves."
-Francis J. Braceland
It calls for
patience and balance, but it also calls for a great ability to decipher a
resident’s demands and distill them into what is truly needed right now
and what can wait, and standing up to those who throw their little
tantrums to get what they want and putting your foot down to say “Enough
already!” yet not be thrown under the bus when you actually do make a
negative decision affecting one of your residents.
You want to be on
good terms as much as possible with those in power both within your
building but also with the management and with your employees. It calls
for a diplomatic power that goes beyond the skill of many politicians, a
finesse of manner not only toward the person or family with which you’re
dealing as well as your own emotions, often in times of great personal
stress and family upheaval.
But you also don’t
want to be seen as treating those who may not have as much power as others
within your building with less patience and time spent on their problems
as with those who have the power. Finding a balance can be time-consuming
in itself, not only in treating your residents properly, but in your
personal life as well.
It often isn’t
enough, the salary, the free rent, the other perks. Some cannot seem to
balance their personal involvement in their residents’ lives with their
own personal needs for down time and privacy and rest, and burnout is an
ongoing work hazard. Some supers never feel truly free.
"The only man who is
really free is the one who can turn down an invitation to dinner without
giving an excuse."
Teaching people how
to deal with stress and burnout in a situation where your life is so
intertwined with those of your residents, who depend on you sometimes way
too much for too many little things they nearly always take for granted –
it’s pretty much impossible. Each super really needs to dig within
himself or herself to find the wherewithal to do the right thing.
finesse, steadiness, patience, wisdom, understanding and perception,
self-awareness and sensitivity, dignity and self-confidence. All these and
much more are needed to be a good super, infinitely more is needed to be a
Is it any wonder
that so many fall short, some quit, some get thrown under the bus, some
become angry, frustrated and brimming with heated irritation and annoyance
with everyone from their residents to vendors, salesmen and contractors
coming in and out of their building?
We all have choices
to make in life. We can choose to do this work, or choose to do something
else. “I’ve done this all my life and don’t know anything else,” is no
excuse. We can all find another field if we can’t hack it in this one. And
if you find that it’s too much for you and you do not have what it takes
to learn what you need to be a better super, it’s probably your best
course of action.
“They always say time
changes things, but you actually have to change them yourself.”
No, “free rent” is
in essence a complete misnomer. A bad name for what seems on the surface
to be a good thing. Just as there’s no free lunch, there’s no free rent,
to state the painfully obvious.
But it can be quite
rewarding to be of daily assistance to those people who’ve come into your
life in this serendipitous existence we lead as supers. And finding the
best balance can make it a worthwhile vocation for life, ‘free’ rent or