Learning the Value of Work (and Money) at an Early Age

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For as long as I can remember, I always possessed a spirit of independence and a longing to be self-sufficient. Perhaps it’s the same spirit that brought my Scots-Irish, English, and German ancestors to Appalachia in the first place, and then down the mountain in search of better opportunities. One memorable way that this spirit manifested itself was the desire to generate my own income from a very young age.

In our household, daily chores were an expectation as a contributing member of the family, and you received no payment for that work. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t like doing those things, but it taught me to do my part.

While still a child, I began seeking ways to generate income outside of my required household chores. This took all the forms you might expect, from lemonade stands, to clearing snow from sidewalks, and car-washing services. As I got older, I developed a small lawn business in my neighborhood. The reputation I earned was a critical factor in my success!

At 14 years old, my parents signed off on a work permit and I was hired as busboy. I worked my way up as a dishwasher, host, server, and ultimately a line cook, receiving numerous raises by demonstrating a strong work ethic, responsibility, and accountability, all things that have likewise helped me get to where I am today.

What I learned by working from an early age:

  • There is no free lunch. You are responsible for creating your own destiny. The bills don’t pay for themselves, and unfortunately, money doesn’t grow on trees.
  • Hard work builds character. In a society filled with instant gratification, delayed gratification through hard work builds an internal drive.
  • Honesty, integrity, and dependability are traits that get rewarded. Having a good reputation gets you in the door. Being honest and dependable keeps you there.
  • The ability to sell yourself and talk about your abilities is essential. I had to convince people to take a chance and hire me. I practiced what I would say and did mock interviews. It was my first self-assessment exercise.
  • Taxes are a part of the earnings equation. I had a rude awakening when I got my first real paycheck. I was calculating my gross wages leading up to that first check and was disappointed to see that “someone” had taken money out.  I quickly learned that this was something I could look forward to for the rest of my life.
  • Working well with others is a life skill. I was forced to work for and with other people who were very different from me. This was a great life-learning experience.
  • There is motivation in figuring out what you DON’T want to do for a living. I knew pretty early that I didn’t want to be a busboy for the rest of my life. I decided then and there that I needed to improve my lot and pursue a course of action that would lead me down another career path.

To that last point, I believe it’s important to expose your children to a variety of potential occupations. Drive them around, point out different jobs and explain what that work might entail. Talk to them about what you do. Encourage them ask your friends and family about their careers and why they pursued them.

An entrepreneurial culture has blossomed among young people and I find that very encouraging. There is tremendous competition from your child’s time, from schoolwork to sports and innumerable other interests, but I think adding work and/or entrepreneurship to that list will prove to be just as worthwhile, if not more.

Let them get to work!

This article originally appeared in an extended form in the “Macaroni Money with Call Federal Union” series on Macaroni Kid

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