I Believe Hard Works Pays Off

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“You got time to lean, you got time to clean.” That was my boss’s favorite motivational quote. I started working at Leo’s Steak Shop when I was 14. The small kitchen was unbearably hot at times, and the walk to the freezer 40 feet out back was unbearably cold at times. But just as fast as the workdays began, they ended. And the long days were somehow always so satisfying, even if I was only making $5.15 an hour.

I believe hard work pays off.

I remember arguing with my mom about getting the job when I did. She said I should be focusing on school, and that I was too young. I’ll never forget my brother’s defense of the decision, “It’ll teach him a good work ethic.” Those words stuck with me. I may not have made much, but it was money I earned.

I grew up in Delaware County, just outside of Southwest Philly. Most kids my age weren’t working at the time, at least not in legal endeavors.
The kids who sold drugs or stole from cars with their older brothers or cousins definitely made more money than me, and I can’t say that didn’t tick me off. It’s easy to be jealous of the kids making money the fast way. But in the long run, their stories almost always involve some sort of major life crisis: arrests, dropping out of school, unwanted pregnancies. And with my family, legitimate work was the only option. I had the very real fear of my dad killing me if I ever got in trouble with the law… or maybe just a very real fear of losing his respect. My dad is a union painter supporting six kids and I’ve never seen him miss a day of work, no matter how sick he was or how late he was up the night before.

When it was time to write an essay for my college application, I chose to write about my first job at Leo’s Steak Shop. I felt working was what defined me most. My grades and application were about average, and I think that essay is why I was accepted.

Now I’ve graduated from Penn State. Once again my grades weren’t spectacular, but I’m not worried about my future. I interned with a local radio station in my final Fall semester and they offered me a job as soon as the internship was over. What’s the specific reason they gave for hiring me? They said love my work ethic.

As much as we all like to complain that “work sucks,” I wouldn’t be where I am—and I definitely wouldn’t be who I am—without it. I believe hard work pays off.

-Tom Lafferty

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