Yesterday an article by Ruben Navarrette regarding “hard work” reminded me of an important lesson I learned long ago. Please read it – it’s wonderful. It’s a lesson that keeps me grounded in what has already been a fortunate life and career.
I started working when I was about seven. Now before you go and contact someone regarding child labor laws, keep in mind this was back in the late 1960’s, and I was working at my elementary school. At the time, I attended a small Catholic school in Los Angeles along with four other siblings. With three more sisters at a Catholic high school, paying tuition for all of us was always a challenge for my parents. When meeting monthly tuition bills was difficult, the nuns managing the school would come up with creative ways to “balance the books.”
In some instances, it meant my older brother and I would come in early on Saturday mornings to do some school cleaning: washing blackboards, dusting erasers, vacuuming rooms, and mopping hallways. My brother and I had a wonderful time doing it. Not only did we get to run in the hallways (always forbidden), listen to rock music, and invade the cafeteria’s food bank, we took a lot of pride in knowing that we were somehow contributing towards our education. Although we never revealed what we did to other kids in the school, we earned the respect of our teachers because of our work.
Years later as a sophomore in high school, a friend told me that a factory up the street was looking for a couple of students to do some part-time work. Again, mostly maintenance work including scrubbing down the factory floor bathrooms (yes, not fun). Some of the money went in my pocket, some towards paying for high school and the rest for gas money (I had a cool 1964 Ford Ranchero– a classic!).
I never felt embarrassed or regretful in taking on these jobs. I didn’t “miss out” on a regular childhood either. In fact, these jobs and others growing up probably kept me out of trouble as a teenager – thankfully. The experiences instilled a strong work ethic. Resilience. Self-respect.
Most important, it implanted in me the belief that anyone doing an honest days work, no matter what it is, deserves my respect.