The words slipped out his mouth easily as he stepped away from the counter where he picked up his daily dose of caffeine. Even more of a surprise was her response, loud enough for not only the customers to hear, but also her manager, “Oh, you know me…I won’t.”
I’ve heard that exact conversation twice this week. I find it appalling. I actually have had that same conversation with people I’ve interacted with. And the more I think about it today, the less I find anything about it as being proper or good. Now, lest you burn me at the stake here, I’m not trying to get all self-righteous or condemning. I am trying to work through a cultural attitude that is very prevalent in generations that follow mine.
I cringe as I am about to write this, but it’s true: my dad instilled in me a desire for a great work ethic. It started at a young age with chores and progressed until I was “out of the house”. I remember delivering papers for an agency that only collected if the customers wanted to pay. The cost for an entire month’s papers (4 issues) was exactly 90 cents. If we collected anything over that, we got to keep it. So, typically people who were kind enough to pay, paid $1. My brother and I had to split a dime for 4 weeks worth of work. Then I moved into detassling corn. Making a whopping $3.35 an hour, we were the first people at the field and the last to leave. When the other kids quit and went to the movies after receiving their first check, me and my brother and sister just doubled up the rows we worked. When I was about 16 years old, my dad found out about an old lady from some remote country in the USSR that lived in our town needed someone to mow her lawn. There were times I “didn’t do it right” and went without pay. I walked several blocks pushing a mower, from our house to hers, just to mow and get a cold drink for pay. One time she couldn’t afford to pay me, so she gave me “Christmas ornaments” (homemade, hand-sewn, little pillow thingies with doilies on them). They still find a place on my Christmas tree every year. The summer in between my junior and senior years, I worked for “Manpower” temp agency. The way it worked was that they would call offering a temporary job and you had the choice to accept or refuse it. My dad made it clear that I wouldn’t refuse any jobs. So, I worked all the crappy jobs that no-one else would do: recycling car tires, packing & shipping graduation gowns across the country, to painting the inside of run down factories, etc. If they called, I did it. My dad told me that they knew I was a good worker and eventually a great job would come along. I begged to differ. I was a good worker, and they gave me all the crappy jobs because they knew I would do them. Then I graduated high-school and worked in a foundry for Caterpillar industrial machines for the summer. It was hot, extremely dirty and back-breaking (literally – one of the guys I worked with broke his back when a chain snapped on an overhead crane and he was smacked with a part). I worked hard, received blisters and then callouses, learned to smoke just to breathe fresher air than what was in the foundry and never was happier to see an end to a shift. When I was leaving to go to college, they offered me a full-time job. Just about $10 an hour in the mid-80’s, and that wasn’t chump-change.
My point is, this work ethic instilled in me by my father exists to this day. So when I hear someone my age, or older, tell a younger person to not work too hard, it just goes against the grain. And just to complete the “old man’s rant”: Kids these days don’t know how to work hard. They certainly don’t need to have someone suggest to them that they just need to “get by”. I think if I were a shift-manager, I would have a conversation with that barista and let her know that customers want you to work hard for them. That’s why they pay $7 for a cup of mediocre coffee. Maybe we can encourage these young people to work hard; we can take notice when they do put effort into their job and make sure they know we notice.
But, please, don’t tell them to not work hard.