Today I put my boys to work in the restaurant. They made breadsticks, bussed tables and washed dishes. The eight year old took to it with an enthusiasm that the eleven year old lacked but at the end of the day they had worked like a typical, kitchen crew. They called each other names, raised their voices in anger and dicked off plenty. It kept them off of video games for a few hours and they were able to put a few bucks in their pocket. Another day, another dollar.

I was ten years old when I had my first real job. I was hired by a local car dealership to mow weeds in an adjacent lot in the summer of 1994. It was an acre of weeds that were twice as tall as myself and I was armed with a rusty push mower that handled about as smoothly as a stampede of bison. We struck a deal up front that I would do the job for twenty bucks which was an unfathomable amount of money to my ten year old brain. I’d already spent the cash in my head on a summer’s worth of Slurpees and snikers bars. Yes sir, I believed that the world was about to be my oyster. Then I got to work.

I spent the first hour just fighting to start the stupid mower and the next hour restarting it every time it jammed up. I’d bring the thing to life with a violent roar and kick up a tsunami of dust as I slogged through as many weeds as I could before it died. Then I’d clear the blades with my hands and repeat the process all over again. Three hours into the job and I was maybe five percent of the way done. I remember wiping the muddy sweat from my brow as I did some math in my head and reassessed my decision. At the rate I was going, it would have taken me all summer to complete this job. And this is why I quit my very first job.

I’m sure that the guys who hired me to mow those weeds were enjoying the show as they watched me work from their air conditioned show room. I didn’t earn a penny that day but I learned a valuable lesson; know the value of your time.

I tried to instill this up front with my kids today by outlining exactly what I would expect of them and exactly what they would get paid. All told, they did a fantastic job. I paid them their dues plus a little extra because the truth is that I got infinitely more out of the arrangement than simply the reciprocal value of their labor; I got to hang out with my kids.

Understanding the value of your time and controlling it are two very different beasts. The truth is, most of my life has felt like one big field of unmowable weeds that I can’t quit. This is a lesson that I haven’t completely wrapped my head around just yet. I guess that life is work, it’s just that simple.

The work around though is finding ways to enjoy your work as much as possible. Today I got to hang out with my boys, and it only cost me 20 bucks.

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