ICFM Magazine, March 2005
What advice would you give if a funeral service intern asked you how to find a good job?
A young funeral service intern asked me the other day, "How can I obtain a good position in the profession after my apprenticeship?"
I thought about how the funeral business has changed over the past 20 years. In the past, most interns would be sons and daughters from family funeral homes who would not have to ask that question.
They would return to the family business and eventually follow their parents—and often grandparents and great-grandparents, and would someday have children of their own who would continue in the profession.
In today's world, a growing majority of those entering the profession have chosen to do so without any previous family connection or even funeral experience itself. Of course, this is true in other areas of expertise as well. Most dentists, lawyers, engineers, retail sales managers, teachers and health care professionals choose their careers rather than "inherit" them.
There's a lot of advice that I could think of for this young man to consider. Off the top of my head, I could have listed:
• Dutifully fulfill your obligations while going through your internship.
• Ask lots of questions about how funeral services should be conducted.
• Develop a personal professional style and interpersonal skills to better relate to grieving families.
• Practice technical preparation procedures.
• Invite feedback from coworkers.
• Network through professional associations.
Searching for the key
But I wondered if there was one single thing that could answer his question and provide the guidance he so sincerely requested.
When I was in my 20s, I graduated from an agricultural college where the dean was a memorable character and a great mentor to the students. He had served his country in wartime and loved watching young people learn and see their dreams come true.
He instilled in all of us a special determination to be the best at whatever we did, and to have fun in the process. His philosophy has stuck with me throughout my career.
I remember one evening as I was studying in my dormitory for some midterm exams coming up; he walked by my open door and stuck his head in. He said, "Why are you studying when some of your classmates seem to be more interested in partying?” I half-jokingly answered, "Because I want to know the material well, then pass the exams and then party."
He replied, "Good for you! You've discovered the first secret to success in work and life."
I asked him to explain what he meant. He said, "Make no mistake about it. The world is 'dog eat dog,' and it's every person for himself. My philosophy is straightforward: I love my job. It's a hell of lot better than working, and I'm not going to let some sluggard take it away from me.
"You can endure your place in life or you can enjoy it. It's entirely up to you. If you are doing something that's not better than working, you are working."
As young people choose to enter the funeral profession for whatever reasons and fully apply themselves, they are making a series of commitments. Over time, some will do better than others as their various levels of abilities and talents manifest themselves. Some will be very strong at first and then fizzle out, others may start out weak but develop into prominent leaders within the profession.
Some will find funeral home environments that are more conducive to personal development than others. Some funeral directors will help them become all they can be and others will take unfair advantage of their time and talents and not compensate them fairly.
In any case, those who succeed will obviously be enjoying what they do. They won't be people who are enduring, just "getting by." They will have passion and a keen interest in everything they turn their hands to.
Those who persevere will find opportunities that will open more doors to advancement. The fact is, people with abilities tend to rise to the top, tend to find rewarding positions and develop strong reputations for expertise, passion and creativity.
So what was my response to the intern's question? I said: "Love your profession. It's a hell of a lot better than working, and don't let some sluggard take it away from you. You can endure your profession or enjoy it. It's entirely up to you."
The potential in the next five years for anyone who wants to provide funeral, burial and cremation services to grieving people is enormous.
It's not about finding that elusive "position," it's positioning your attitude and daily approach to the profession that eventually attracts opportunities and a resulting rewarding career.