10thHuman: Work ethic and the value of work

credit: pixabay

“Boy, this job feeds my family and pays my bills. Don’t you ever complain about this job again or you can leave right now.” 

Those words come back to me often, twenty five years after they were spoken. Over the last couple of days, I’ve had a couple of conversations about work ethic and would share a story with you

One of my first jobs was clean up at a construction site. My job was to clean up the debris and scrap lumber, nails, shingles, tiles and sawdust that building homes generates.

I was 14, I believe.

One particularly hot day in Las Vegas, Nevada, I was maybe four hours into a shift and feeling particularly grumbly about having to perform manual labor on this day.

It’s fascinating to me how formative early life lessons are and this day I was about to receive one.

So, being particularly grumbly and fourteen on this day, I thought it would be wise to vocalize this to the gentleman I was working for.

This man, whom I remember to be around the age I am now, who’d spent 20+ years building homes, who’d worked with his hands to provide for his family for two decades, was a good boss…demanding but fair.

Fourteen year old me said something to the effect of how I shouldn’t have to be out in the heat doing this to earn a dollar. I may have said this more than once in the four hours I’d been out there that day.

What I remember quite clearly is when he’d had enough.

“Enough,” he said, sharply (clearly indicating he’d had enough).

He fixed me with his steely gaze and pointed a weathered hand and finger at me.

“Boy, this job feeds my family and pays my bills. Don’t you ever complain about this job again or you can leave right now.”

Each syllable dripped with firmness and a resoluteness that I can hear and see to this day.

He let the silence sit for a moment, as my teenage self struggled with warring emotions and responses.

“Well?” he said, after a moment.

I closed my mouth, bent my back and head to the task at hand and went back to work. In the summer months I worked for him, I said (and thought) not one more word of ingratitude or entitlement.

When the time came to go back to school, he handed me my last check personally.

I thanked him and proceeded to start back toward my bicycle.

As I walked away, I opened the envelope and peered inside. He had doubled my last check.

I turned back to thank him. He was looking at me and as I opened my mouth to say, “Thank you” he waved me silent, gave me a thumbs up and turned to go back to work.

In that lie another life lesson, for another post.