Preparing Children For Work Life

“Work is the keystone of a perfect life. Work and trust in God.”

- Woodrow Wilson

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R.G.Tourneau, inventor and philanthropist, was once asked, when a child should start work.

He replied that a child could start at the age of three. Rejecting the view that it would be seen as child labour, danger to the child’s health and the curtailing of a child’s play time, he said: “If anyone does not learn to work as a child, he will never do much when he grows up”. He cited his own childhood, when he learned to saw wood and shovel sand. “I do not know what it means to lose a day through sickness”, he continued, defending the point that the child’s health would not be harmed, through work. For good measure, he added: “I think that, almost without exception, the ones who get things done are those who learned to work as children. We need to teach our youngsters the dignity of labour and the pleasure of accomplishment. They must be made to understand that only by determined effort do we create things worthwhile. Not only does our work keep us from mischief, but the more we sweat and toil, the bigger the kick we get out of our labour”.

Thomas Alva Edison, who got his early education from his mother, has a few lessons for children:

  1. Always be interested in what you undertake.
  2. Don’t mind the clock; but keep at the task.
  3. Failures, so called, are finger posts; pointing in the right direction to those who are willing to learn.
  4. Hard work and a genuine interest in everything that makes for progress will make men and women more valuable and acceptable to themselves and to the world.

The intangible benefits of work, which Edison stated, are packed into John Ruskin’s pithy conclusion:

“The highest reward for a man’s toil is not what he gets for it, but what he becomes by it”.

Better persons, we presume, is what he had in mind.
To Edison’s list of points, what shall we add?

  1. Children should realize that there is no perfect job. They will have to learn to like imperfect jobs, because they cannot wait for the perfect job to arrive. Coming to terms with reality, they could strive to contribute successfully to the job they take.
  2. That the essence of hard work is concentration; to put heart and soul into the task.
  3. That excellence is attained by hard and unceasing work, which leads to satisfaction.
  4. That they should do more than they are paid for.
  5. That their work life will test their relationships and character, when they are short changed, denigrated, falsely accused and passed over. The example of Zen Master Hakwin should be a lesson to them. Hakwin was honoured by his neighbours as a good and pure man. Nearby lived a pretty girl, who was found to be pregnant. Her angry parents wanted the name of the man responsible. The girl would not speak. After much pressure she confessed. She accused Hakwin. Furious, her parents stormed Hakwin’s house and demanded an explanation. All he said was: “Is that so?” When the baby was born, it was taken to Hakwin’s house, who took good care of the child. A year later, the girl could no longer suffer in silence; she divulged the name of the father of the child, a young man from the fish market. Ashamed, the girl’s parents rushed to Hakwin’s house to apologize. Even then, all he said was: “Is that so?”
    Embarrassed, the girl’s parents took the child home. Like Hakwin, our children could be falsely accused and let down, even by colleagues. Like Hakwin, they will have to brave the situation, without accusing others and stooping to conquer.
  6. Why are live crabs left in an open basket? Certainly none will escape. Why? As one tries to get out, the others will drag it down. The pull-down mentality is common in the work place. When our children are forewarned, they will be forearmed.
  7. Failing is not failure. From failing or many failings, they could learn to succeed and not wallow in self-pity.
  8. In the work place there is only one dictum: WIN. Win sales, win profits, win market share. Winning is fair as long as the means are not unfair. If ethics, dignity and social norms are flouted, then winning is losing. Our children will do well not to align themselves with such compromises.
  9. Ability alone is not enough. They will have to demonstrate loyalty, sincerity, enthusiasm and co-operation, to succeed in the long term.
  10. Their growth and happiness will depend on the relationships they build with those they transact with – in the company and outside of it.
  11. The best way to initiate such relationships is to look at things from the other person’s point of view. Step into his shoes, so to speak.

Ignatius Fernandez