On Work Ethic and the Value of Teamwork

This is a repost from my old website — enjoy!
One of my childhood friends shared this story on Facebook.  I’m not sure where it originated, but I’m glad I saw it — it’s something that, when I read it, made me reflect back on how thankful I am for the values my parents instilled in me.  While I did not have the exact same experience as the young man in this story, the values I learned are similar.

One young man went to apply for a managerial position in a big company. He passed the initial interview, and now would meet the director for the final interview.

The director discovered from his CV that the youth’s academic achievements were excellent. He asked, “Did you obtain any scholarships in school?” the youth answered “no.”

” Was it your father who paid for your school fees?”

“My father passed away when I was one year old, it was my mother who paid for my school fees” he replied.

” Where did your mother work?”

“My mother worked as clothes cleaner.”

The director requested the youth to show his hands. The youth showed a pair of hands that were smooth and perfect.

“Have you ever helped your mother wash the clothes before?”

“Never, my mother always wanted me to study and read more books. Besides, my mother can wash clothes faster than me.”

The director said, “I have a request. When you go home today, go and clean your mother’s hands, and then see me tomorrow morning.”

The youth felt that his chance of landing the job was high. When he went back home, he asked his mother to let him clean her hands. His mother felt strange, happy but with mixed feelings, she showed her hands to her son.

The youth cleaned his mother’s hands slowly. His tears fell as he did that. It was the first time he noticed that his mother’s hands were so wrinkled, and there were so many bruises in her hands. Some bruises were so painful that his mother winced when he touched them.

This was the first time the youth realized that it was this pair of hands that washed the clothes everyday to enable him to pay the school fees. The bruises in his mother’s hands were the price that his mother had to pay for his education, his school activities and his future.

After cleaning his mother’s hands, the youth quietly washed all the remaining clothes for his mother.

That night, mother and son talked for a very long time.

Next morning, the youth went to the director’s office.

The Director noticed the tears in the youth’s eyes, when he asked: “Can you tell me what have you done and learned yesterday in your house?”

The youth answered, “I cleaned my mother’s hand, and also finished washing all the remaining clothes.

“I know now what appreciation is. Without my mother, I would not be who I am today. By helping my mother, only now do I realize how difficult and tough it is to get something done on your own. And I have come to appreciate the importance and value of helping one’s family.

The director said, “This is what I am looking for in a manager. I want to recruit a person who can appreciate the help of others, a person who knows the sufferings of others to get things done, and a person who would not put money as his only goal in life.”

“You are hired.”

This young person worked very hard, and received the respect of his subordinates. Every employee worked diligently and worked as a team. The company’s performance improved tremendously.

A child who has been protected and habitually given whatever he wanted would develop an “entitlement mentality” and would always put himself first. He would be ignorant of his parent’s efforts. When he starts work, he assumes that every person must listen to him, and when he becomes a manager, he would never know the sufferings of his employees and would always blame others. For this kind of person, who may be good academically, they may be successful for a while, but eventually they would not feel a sense of achievement. They will grumble and be full of hatred and fight for more. If we are this kind of protective parents, are we really showing love or are we destroying our children instead?

You can let your child live in a big house, eat a good meal, learn piano, watch on a big screen TV. But when you are cutting grass, please let them experience it. After a meal, let them wash their plates and bowls together with their brothers and sisters. It is not because you do not have money to hire a maid, but it is because you want to love them in a right way. You want them to understand, no matter how rich their parents are, one day their hair will grow gray, same as the mother of that young person. The most important thing is your child learns how to appreciate the effort and experience the difficulty and learns the ability to work with others to get things done.

It doesn’t take extreme sacrifice to develop a good work ethic or the value of honest work.  From an early age, I was given an allowance for doing chores.  It might have been $1 or $2 a week when I was eight years old.  At that time, my dad, brother and I went fishing all the time.  I was ready to graduate from a push-button rod to spin-cast pole.  My brother and I each picked out a reel that was about $20, and for over two months we each saved up our allowances.  At the end of that time, when we went to buy the reel, my dad bought us each a graphite fishing rod (the reel was sold separately).  We both still use those rods when we go fishing.  I may one day buy a new rod, but that one will always be special to me.

Some time later, when I was old enough to use mowing equipment, I began mowing at my parent’s house (and later for a neighbor as well), to earn my spending money — in addition to doing weekly chores.  My parents were firm believers in the idea that money earned is worth more than money given.  When I was thirteen, I wanted to start playing ice hockey — not a cheap sport, by any means.  A set of decent equipment can cost almost $500.  My parents told me that they would pay for the league fees if I bought my equipment.  Thanks to the money I’d been setting aside in my savings account, I had enough to purchase the equipment.  I could go into a litany of other things bought with my earnings from various chores, but the moral of all those stories is that I always appreciated those purchases more than things that were just given to me.  I’m not saying kids need to be deprived of everything, but in a world of instant gratification, fiscal responsibility can easily be instilled during childhood with minimal effort.

Teamwork is another value that is most easily instilled during childhood.  Team sports are the typical method, though they may not be for everyone.  From the age I could swing a bat, I played sports: soccer, baseball, basketball, hockey (ice and roller).  Besides the benefits of exercise (something that could be the subject of an entire blog altogether), the benefits of team participation at an early age are numerous.

One person by themselves cannot win a hockey game — it takes a team, working together, to get the puck past the opposing team’s goalie and into the net.  Each player has their job to do — the others cover for them when they fall down, or get sent to the penalty box — and they know that their teammates would do the same for them.  The same concept carries through for other team sports.  One person cannot carry the team — the captain needs his assistant captains, just as he needs the rest of the players.  No one player is more important than the others.

As I wrote in a comment about this post when I first saw it on Facebook:

Experience is the greatest teacher — skills can be taught in a classroom, but life must be lived to be learned. There’s no book or person that can explain how to have a work ethic — or be part of a team.

If you read this far, you’ve learned a bit more about me and what made me who I am today — thinking on it now, it seems that there is a debt that is passed on from parent to child.  Parents, through their explanations and the experiences they afford (nature and nurture), give their child the best opportunity to succeed.  Their children, in turn, have a debt to their parents — no, to humanity itself — to prepare their children for success in life, just as their parents did for them.  This cycle, which has been repeated since the first humans walked the earth, is what has led to both the rise and fall of our civilizations and culture.  Deep thoughts.

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