In my hands was a small, multicolored clay turtle that I had made and
painted at elementary school. I carefully walked up the steps to the
front of our home, excited to show my mother what I had made and give
it to her. As I opened the screen door, I dropped my handcrafted
treasure, and it broke into pieces.
I sat down and cried.
My mother found me a few minutes later, gathered me in her arms and
gave me a hug. After I stopped crying, we picked up the pieces, took
them inside and glued them together. This turtle sits in my mother's
Why did I cry? Happy and proud that I had crafted something for my
mother with my hands, I was devastated when it fell and broke into
pieces. My mother inherently understood that what was important was
that I had created something for her, and she helped me fix it. The
turtle was an outward sign that I was competent, that I could make
something of value, that I had improved her life with something that I had made.
My work had value.
As a child, my "work" consisted of helping with vacuuming, laundry,
making beds and cleaning the house. My mother's favorite remedy for my complaints of boredom was to give me a spray bottle of Formula 409 and a rag, so I could clean the baseboards and the doors in our home. I learned that reading was a lot more fun and rarely complained about being bored.
When I became old enough for a "real," paying job, I worked in our
church cleaning the bathrooms. It certainly was not exciting work, but
I was pleased when I finished my job. The bathrooms were left gleaming.
Overhearing comments on Sunday morning about the "clean and sparkling" bathrooms made me proud.
My work had value.
Since then, I have worked as a skating waitress, switchboard operator,
ice cream scooper, babysitter, inventory taker, bank teller, financial
analyst, telemarketer, marketing manager, financial planner, financial
director, speaker, author and columnist. My best work comes from using
my God-given talents to help others.
The value of work is measured in more than monetary terms. It includes the accomplishment of being creative, expresses our uniqueness and makes a difference, however small, in our world.
The easiest way for us to track the "value" of work is through
compensation and payment. We work; we get paid. We hope that what we get paid is what we think our activities, our efforts and our creations
This weekend marks Labor Day. For the more than 25 million Americans who are unemployed, underemployed or discouraged, the idea of celebrating Labor Day must be ironic. Alanis Morissette's song "Isn't it Ironic," reminds us that life is often filled with irony: "An old man turned ninety-eight," notes the tune. "He won the lottery and died the next day. It's a black fly in your Chardonnay. It's a death-row pardon two minutes too late. And isn't it ironic . . . don't you think?"
Isn't it ironic that we are celebrating Labor Day when we have so many
that would like to be laboring at work, but are not.
The working conditions of the late 19th century, when the first Labor
Day event was held, were very different from those of today. Industrial
workers often worked 12 hours a day, six or seven days a week, just to
get by. Young children often worked in dangerous, industrial jobs. This
environment led to the labor movement and a demand for better
conditions and better pay.
Today, overall, we have better labor conditions in our country, but we
have a lack of jobs. We have 25 million Americans who would like to be
working, but are not (unemployed, underemployed and discouraged workers).
This is a personal financial tragedy and a national economic tragedy,
but also could be a great opportunity.
If we can just figure out how to get those 25 million people back to
work, we would have reason to celebrate Labor Day.
Imagine 25 million people, creating new products, new ideas and new processes. Whether it is cutting grass, reconciling bank statements, scooping ice cream, cleaning floors or providing strategic advice. We all should strive to be able to say: My work has value.
Posts by Jackie Gingrich Cushman
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