Everything I Needed to Know to Succeed, I Learned as a Ten Year-old

succeed with industryWe attended a beautiful wedding over the weekend. I was enjoying the reception, — listening to the music and watching the young people dance. “They will dance through the night!” I exclaimed happily. “No”, my neighbor informed me, “they have to be out by ten”.

It was then 9 o’clock, and I realized there were stacks of dirty plates at the back of the room. The delicious dinner had been served on real plates. Did I mention that this was an outstanding reception?

Well I wasn’t dancing, and I usually help out at friends’ weddings, but had cooled my volunteering lately since my legs were not able to take the hours of standing. I approached the kitchen and asked, “Do you need help?”

A man at the stainless steel sink said, “Without help, we won’t get out of here”. He was another volunteer and trying to wash all the dishes alone.

“I know how to do this,” I said. And we became a team on either side of the dishwasher. He handled the dirty dishes, and I took care of the clean. What can I say? I was having fun. I had something to do. I was helping!

As we had joined forces, others appeared from the reception hall to empty the garbage, gather up other dirty dishware and carry the clean to the waiting cars.

While working on the dishes and silverware and serving dishes, we realized that both of us, now approaching retirement age, had learned this skill on our “first” jobs.

When I was in the fifth grade (circa early 60’s) I was allowed to work for my lunch (a 30 cent value) at my grade school. I spent my lunch recess washing dishes in the cafeteria. Surprisingly, dishwasher operation hasn’t changed much since then.

It was there as a ten year old, that I learned to handle hot plates. (Something with which those around me last weekend, were having difficulty). I learned to keep up so that the “cafeteria ladies” would not yell at me. I learned how to keep things sanitary — what was safe to touch, what was out of bounds.

I was obliged to be industrious. Whoever is equally industrious will succeed equally well.

~Johann Sebastian Bach~

While obviously not a creative genius like J.S. Bach, I did learn about working with others, keeping the pace, helping my family (hopefully my mom appreciated the $1.50 that I saved her each week), and the value of having something to do.

Do they even let 5th graders work for lunch these days? And if so, would they pay them only in food? I really can’t imagine OSHA signing off on a 10 year old operating a machine on public property that produces hot, very hot dishes and silverware that have to be dried and put away.

Other entrepreneurs report these early lessons cementing something in their life fabric, for example — Mary Ellen Tribby in “The Decision Tree”. What do you encourage your kids to do that will teach them the “time-value” of money, return-on-investment, and plain old industriousness?

Should I also admit that the following year (6th grade) they put me in charge of the school’s office and nurse’s office during lunch-time while the principal, secretary and nurse took their lunch hour? But that’s another story ;)

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