In a post titled “What’s a Job Good For?” Jeffrey Tucker of the Mises Institute writes about the value of getting your kids to work, to value work, and to obtain a substantial work ethic. It got me thinking about the way I was raised.
For me, it was the yellow, lined notepad that started it all.
Each and every morning, it seemed, my sister and I, and in some casual sense, my little brothers, would wake up to face a list of chores on that memorable yellow notepad. Written in my mother’s often illegible script, our names, underlined, stood atop numbered lists of menial tasks we’d have to tend to before the day was over- and sometimes before we departed for school.
The older you were, the longer the list of chores. Naturally, chronologically, my sister and I always had the brunt of the workload. My brothers, considering their ages at the time, were dealt with the usual sort of fare: to make their beds and clean up their rooms. The type of stuff that was, as one could say, part of what should be expected of a reasonably responsible young boy.
There was always some level of satisfaction with crossing out, or “checking off,” each task after completing them. In retrospect, back then, I suppose that was less about valuing productivity and more about understanding what will become of it if I did finish my chores. That is, it was about understanding the trade-off. If I finished my chores, I was able to go play with my friends, for instance.
Whether it was the weeds that needed pulling, the floors that needed vacuuming or the shelves that needed dusting, I learned to recognize the importance of work, and the rewards of said work: namely, all of the things that amount to what one would call a ‘work ethic.’ As Tucker puts it,
To have a “work ethic” means the willingness to experience discomfort on the way toward the completion of a job done with excellence. This doesn’t come naturally.
In the end, the yellow notepad worked well in getting us, at the least, to recognize the potential good (i.e. playing with friends) that can come of productive work. And at the most, it was a formidable impetus to the way I try and live my life today: to value work, productivity, for their abilities to both instill value, and produce value.