What Success Really Means

June 27, 2013
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To me success means making the best out of the situation one is in. According to this definition, success is quite possible through hard work. As a prime example of what success means to me, I interviewed my maternal grandparents, who immigrated to America when they were young and worked their way up from nothing.

Q: Where were you born?
A: Cairo, Egypt.

Q: Why did you leave?
A: We were kicked out by President Nasser. He made the situation very bad for the Jews. We didn’t want to risk our lives by staying, so we left.

Q: What did you have in Egypt?
A: (Grandfather) I owned a store that I took over from my father when he passed away. I had a big family and I lived with my mother and siblings in a house that we rented. I also had a motorcycle that I rode to work and a lot of friends that I was close with.
We lived very comfortable, sociable lives as if we were kings.

Q: When you left Egypt, what did you get to bring with you?
A: Out of everything we had we were only permitted to take a twenty dollar travelers’ check with us but we managed to smuggle five-hundred dollars extra when we left. We took a boat to France, where we stayed for four months. In France, our twenty dollars were stolen so we were lucky that we were able to smuggle the extra five-hundred. From there, we took a plane to America.

Q: Why did you choose to come to America?
A: (Grandmother) Originally, our plan was to go to Israel because my father’s family went there but one of my aunts went and told us that it was a difficult life there. Then, we planned to go to Brazil, because we knew somebody who lived there. My aunt went and she came back to tell us not to go there either. Finally, we decided to come to America because I had an aunt and uncle who lived here and told us how beautiful it was, and how the holidays felt similar to how we used to celebrate them in Egypt.

Q: What did you have when you arrived at America?
A: Our clothes and the very little amount of money we salvaged. The only family we had was Aunt Marcelle (my grandmother’s aunt). The rest of our family was not with us.

Q: How did you start to get back on your feet in America?
A: (Grandmother) An American organization called NYANA helped me find a job. I worked at a bank. Your grandfather and I lived with my aunt and uncle in their apartment. Altogether, there were eight people living in two rooms. We lived there for three months until we had enough money to rent our own apartment. I knew only a little English from what I learned in school in Egypt so when I got to the United States, I practiced by watching TV and went to an institute where I learned English, typing, and shorthand.

(Grandfather) My wife’s uncle got me a job at a pharmacy, but after working there for three weeks, they took advantage of me and didn’t pay me. From then on, I looked for jobs. I switched from job to job, having thirty-two different jobs altogether. Usually, I worked three jobs at a time. Some of the jobs I had were delivering food, working at a bank, and working as a salesman at a store. I used the money I smuggled from Egypt to buy furniture and eventually had enough money to rent an apartment, and then buy a house.

Q: How did you make what you have now?
A: We worked extremely hard to make a living and adjust to the country. The first year we got here, our first son was born and three years later, our daughter was born. This is how we started our family and went from having almost nobody, to having a family that now consists of two children and eight grandchildren. We also worked hard to bring our brothers and sisters to America. From the beginning, we saved our money so we would be able to establish and raise a home. Fourteen years after were first arrived in this country, we bought the house that we still live in today. We were also able to pay back the organization that helped us when we got here, so it can help other people.

Q: How would you describe success?
A: Success is the result of hard work. It is the feeling we have now of being independent, not relying on anybody, and being able to help our children. It is that we live comfortably and safely with a big family to enjoy.

My grandparents went from “living like kings” to having everything taken away from them. They made the best out of the situation and found a new home. Hard work and determination was what they lived by and that is the reason they were able to earn the lifestyle they once had, but were once so far away from. To me, this is the epitome of success.

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