Public Relations Student Society of America designates September as Ethics Month.
Conversations abound throughout the month on the topic. So I felt like it might be a good time to squeeze in a talk about work ethic.
To put it mildly, I have always had a strong work ethic. It is just part of who I am. It is something I almost cherish as I know it is a trait that came from my dad, and it colors everything I do including the way I teach. Let me share a little of the back story.
When I was in the 8th grade, I got a job washing dishes at a local restaurant – a tavern actually, but it served food too. I was the sole dish washer, and let me clarify that, I WAS the dishwasher. I washed every single dish by hand. All night long, I stood at a sink and washed dishes. Sometimes they were so busy, they were waiting for me to get clean plates or silverware out so they could serve the food. After work, I would go home, rub petroleum jelly on my hands, put socks over them and go to sleep.
I didn’t mind the hard work; I knew it was appreciated by my bosses: Pat, John and Harry. Harry would often make me a hot-off-the-grill cheeseburger to take home at night, and I will always remember how John called me “Pocahontas.” I no longer worked there, but when I was elected homecoming queen my senior year, he called to congratulate me saying, “I knew you would do it, Pocahontas!” The last time I saw John was right after his wife Pat had died. I had the opportunity to just sit by his side, hold his hand and visit with an old boss who had become a dear friend. He died a year after his wife. He was 93.
I had other jobs throughout high school–waiting tables, cleaning houses, babysitting, and with all of them, my work ethic, sense of professionalism and understanding of the value of relationship grew stronger.
I joined the Army right after I graduated from high school. I went to basic training in December in Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri–maybe that’s why I don’t like cold weather! I earned what they called a “Super Jock” award, which was basically an armband that gave you first-in-line rights at the mess hall. Trust me, in basic training, that’s a big deal! I wouldn’t classify myself as a super jock, but I am competitive especially with myself. So I pushed myself physically, which resulted in the armband, and in being one of only seven females in our company to graduate from basic training that cycle.
I earned the Expert Field Medical Badge while stationed at Fort Riley, Kansas. I remember the toughest part for me was the land navigation courses. I can study for exams; I can train for the physical demands, but when it comes to reading maps and finding my way around, I find that challenging. Just ask my family!
After serving six years in the Army, I was a stay-at-home mom raising our two daughters, and I always tried to instill that same work ethic in them. I can remember telling them that it didn’t matter what their job was, they should always strive to be the best at it. If your job is frying french fries, then fry the best french fries possible. They heard this often.
So fast forward through life, I was a nontraditional student when I finally went to college, but even if I hadn’t waited so long, I would have probably still had the same drive to excel. I maintained a 4.0 GPA while earning both my undergraduate and graduate degrees, and I won the Competitive Graduate Award, which helped pay for my graduate studies.
I don’t share all this with a sense of boastfulness, but rather to point out that my achievements stem from a strong work ethic. Nobody said I had to do anything but meet the minimum requirements, yet something within me has always wanted more than that. And I tend to want to see that same kind of work ethic in the people around me, including the students I teach.
I imagine for students who just want to meet the minimum requirements, my drive to push them to want to do more can probably seem overwhelming. It is not my intent to make the classes and assignments overwhelming; I just honestly want to see my students succeed, and I just honestly think it takes more than the minimum to do that. I’m not talking just GPA. I think you need more than just a diploma in your hand. The same diploma, need I remind you, that everyone else is getting when they cross that stage. Competition is tough.
Often times though, the reason for this minimalist attitude is, “we’re too busy.” I do not doubt this for a minute, but you need to find a way to make it all work. If there isn’t an inherent desire to do more than the minimum requirement, then I think the first step is rewiring your thinking and strengthening that inner work ethic, and organization and prioritization can help you do that.
I came across an NPR interview with Melvina Noel, author of “How to Thrive in College.” I would encourage all students, especially those who are struggling in these first few weeks of the semester to take the time…yes, take the time, to listen to the interview.
One of my favorite parts of the interview is when she tells her students, as they straggle into the classroom tired and frazzled from everything else in life, that “this is your time. It’s not a spa, but almost.”
I imagine the notion of class being “almost like a spa” is a tough sell, but it’s a great outlook. I mean, you did go to all the effort to enroll in the class for some reason…to get a promotion, to land that dream job or to maybe just stop frying french fries for a living some day. So why not step into class with a “I’m doing this for me” kind of attitude.
So as we wrap up ethics month, stop and consider your own work ethic. Are you prepared to do what it takes to achieve your goals? Do you want a “go-to-the-front-of-the-line” resume? It may mean doing more than the bare minimum; it may mean you will need to leave your “suitcase” outside the classroom door for 75 minutes, but take Noel’s advice. “Don’t give up. Never, ever, ever give up.”
And if you need a few tips on how to get started, this dish-washing, combat boot-wearing, pushing-to-excel teacher is here to help you! Pull up a chair and let’s talk.