Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Hard Work Pays Off?

When I was in the fifth grade, my father moved us to Phoenix, AZ in search of construction work. He joined a crew building homes to the stars in Scottsdale. One weekend, he took the family for a tour of this immense mansion because he was proud of his work but felt ill-equipped to describe the project in accurate terms. It was the most amazing thing that I’d ever seen, far grander than usual. Concrete was being poured for the Olympic-sized swimming pool, the tennis courts were completed, and the entry had a lighting fixture on a scale I had only seen in a shopping mall. It was an impressive sight, even though there was no carpet, tile, or furnishings. Truly, in my wildest dreams I could never have imagined something so luxurious. Our family of five drove back to our three bedroom rental home chattering excitedly about the features of the mansion and what it might be like to live in a place like that. I reasoned that Dad’s dream was always to build his own home, and it was obvious that he possessed the necessary skills. So, I asked when we might be able to have a home like that. To my surprise, my parents laughed. Then the answer came: NEVER. Why? I struggled internally to discover my mistake. I realized that it takes time and money to plan a good home, and I knew it was the result of many laborers. So, I reasoned that each crew member would have to save money and be willing to work on one another’s homes—but eventually—each crew member would have a dream home of their own. I considered carefully my line of reasoning and it was definitely sound. So, I proposed the idea. More laughter resulted. I was stumped, so they explained that people in our class don’t enjoy the privileges of the rich. Well, then, I asked how one becomes rich. The answer that followed was not memorable, but I got the distinct impression that being rich had to do with hard work. "But Dad is the hardest worker I know. If he can’t get rich, then who can?" My logic was flawless, and yet I was told that the world doesn’t work that way, and I would understand when I was older.
Well, I am older, but this life lesson still perplexes me. People everywhere are buying into the myth that if you work hard enough, you can get anything and everything you want. If that were true, every single mother working 3 jobs would be driving Mercedes and vacationing in Cancun. The wealthiest live lives of leisure. Leisure is the enemy of hard work. There is something very broken about our world. No one in my circle has ever gotten rich, unless you count a boss I once had that embezzled 100K on top of her 50K salary for which she worked about 2 hours per day. At last report, she is furthering her education and frequenting local spas and salons to maintain her Sex-in-the-City look! I can’t afford to get a manicure, much less afford a college degree. Lesson: many work hard, few get rich.

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