A Totally Unscientific, Very Sentimental Study of Work Ethic
A Father’s Day Ode
A few months ago, my 16-year-old daughter decided she wanted a job. She had her newly minted driver’s license and needed cash to spend. Unbeknownst to her parents, she knocked out a resume, drove out to a large suburban mall, and came back with a $10 an hour retail gig. Given we live in downtown Philadelphia, she probably could have found a job that didn’t cost her so much in gas money to get to, but since I pay for the gas, and she wishes she lived in the suburbs, I understood her thinking. What surprised me was how much she loved the job. She’d go to school, then hit a coffee shop to study, head to work, and finally come home late soaring. One night I asked her why: “I get crazy discounts on swimsuits,” she said. “And they really like me. They put me upfront because I don’t mind the pushy customers. I’m good at it.”
As a parent, you wish you could bottle up such moments to have them on hand between the teenage mood swings, minor/major rebellions, and worst of all, the quick ‘Hi-Byes’ that too often stand in for daily interaction.
Since my daughter got her first job, I’ve had to stop myself from offering advice, but it’s prompted me to think a lot about what I want to pass on to my kids about their approach to work. I know that it’s not something I can hash out as a list and just hand it to them. Like most parenting, they learn by example, a slow accretion of watching us and extended family and absorbing what to do or not do.
Given it’s Father’s Day weekend, I wanted to reflect on what I took in from my own father and grandfathers about work ethic (mothers will get a future issue, promise!). As context, my Dad and his father Sumpter chose somewhat similar career paths. They both studied accounting, then used this to climb the corporate ladder and later build their own businesses. My grandfather on my mother’s side, Lester, was a photographer for the St. Louis Post Dispatch throughout his career. That is after he was a semi-professional bodybuilder, of all things.
The very phrase ‘work ethic’ first conjures in my mind one thing: work hard. Put in the hours, brute force, and don’t sleep until the job is done. Work ethic = Work hard. These are often exchanged as one in the same thing. Even the Merriam-Webster dictionary defines it that way. “Work Ethic: a set of values reflected especially in a desire or determination to work hard.”
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