During medical school I played on a roller hockey team for a couple of years. Most of the team was centered in the Bridgeport neighborhood of the city and we would practice in a church gym when we could get it. Getting their involved trying to get rides from a teammate in Lincoln Park or rollerblading to the “el” or subway at that point and rollerblading from the subway west a bit to get to practice. A friend in Lincoln Park was starting his career as an attorney in the city and missed most of the practices and a fair amount of the games but had a car when work didn’t call. The games were played way south, outside the city and required a car to get there inside of 3 hours. Weather permitting, I would rollerblade to Bridgeport and rely on my teammates there to get me there and at least as far north on the way back before taking the subway back to Streeterville where my apartment was located. I enlisted a friend in the suburbs to pick me up downtown and give me a ride which lasted once after we watched a car flip over the railing on the Dan Ryan Expressway into oncoming traffic. After that he decided he wasn’t driving me anymore, he would go direct to the games. Needless to say, it was a lot of effort for a 60-minute game.
I don’t recall how I found the league or the team. Between the two of us living between Ohio and Fullerton and my friend from the western suburbs, we were clearly outsiders among the rest of the team from Bridgeport. The team was co-captained by two brothers named Frank and Tony Zaladonis. You could call them Zaladonis and both would respond which was good because I had a hard time remembering who was who.
The Zaladonis brothers lived in the house they grew up in, a few blocks from where the Daley family raised generations of their own, including both mayors of the city. Both were slightly older than I, never married and had no children. Both worked for Cook County in the Office of Vital Records, I believe it is called, at the time, filing paper copies of birth and death certificates. That in and of itself always struck me as odd but they explained they would do a stack of birth certificates, then a stack of death certificates, then a stack of birth certificates and so on. It was also about the time they started to scan these records and the Zaladonis’ worked on that as well as long as it was within their prescribed workspace outlined on the floor with yellow tape. They were confined to a certain area of documents and file cabinets and were more than content to work “inside the box”. They had no aspirations of ever getting outside their space or doing anymore than was asked of them. Subscribed hours and a defined workspace to accomplish their tasks required by the office. It is possible and probable they are doing the same thing today, just as they did 20+ years ago.
They seemed content with the way things were. Perhaps they could do more significant work, make more money or seek other opportunities. But they chose not to and from what I could tell had no future aspirations of changing their lives or routines. Filing birth and death certificates, in alternate, suited them just fine, and the yellow line on the floor both defined their workspace and excluded others.
Meanwhile, the attorney and medical student are wondering what we got ourselves into. Long hours, broken relationships, debt, indecision, mental status changes, fear of failure, you name it. Not for the Zaladonis brothers. I respected them then and respect them now.
Some might consider this a lack of ambition, or drive to succeed. A lack of ambition to aim and drive above mediocrity. While many of us inwardly admit we won’t be the smartest, funniest, best looking, strongest, happiest or healthiest, we keep goals for our professional and personal lives. Not Frank and Tony. Some might argue that this could show a number of things such as, lack of faith in one’s abilities, fear of failure (perhaps due to failure in the past), fear of what others might say, “laziness”, being too stressed or nervous to take on much more or absence of enough incentive.
Why do I remember these guys 20+ years later? Because I was taught that if you are mediocre, then you are not satisfied. I learned that if a person is satisfied, then that person is not mediocre. You might protest that those people are just fooling themselves, but that is the point. You don’t get to decide what is mediocre for someone else.
It is really just easier for us to decide what is important to each of us versus putting our energy into worrying about what it means for everybody else.