Sometimes I get a little irritated at young people who think they’re too good to do menial work and look at me with contempt because I work in an air-conditioned office and have achieved a modest level of comfort and success.
But, I am not afraid to tell them, I didn’t just decide to be a lawyer one day, and make it my first job. In my youth, I did plenty of hard, sweaty, smelly, grueling work, which provided me enough money to buy my own car, gas to go in it, and a little extra to spend. It also provided me with some excellent experience for the years ahead, and an appreciation for the value of a dollar, work and a job like the one I have today.
My first real job was the summer I turned 14. I worked on a farm. My duties were varied. The primary task that summer was the construction of a hog building. I mixed mortar in the hot sun for concrete block construction; prepared and laid out forms for concrete slats; and helped lift and set in place those very heavy concrete slats after the concrete hardened.
When it was time to take a truckload of hogs to market, I was part of the crew that herded, pushed and prodded the giant smelly animals from their filthy pens to the ramp that led to the stock trailer. The odor (the “smell of money”, as farmers call it) was intense. Fortunately, after about an hour in, you forget about the smell, and the fact that you are covered with pig feces caked in your clothes, in your hair, on your face, and under your fingernails.
On good days, we would walk the rows of soybean fields with a corn knife – some call it a machete – and chop down the stalks of volunteer corn that grew up from prior years in the bean field. It was all very hard work, but good for me, without a doubt.
The next year, I advanced to the status of fry cook at a local burger and sandwich joint. That didn’t do much for my 15-year-old complexion, but my buddies and I had fun, and still reminisce about those times when we get together. Plus, I learned to cook, something I still love to do.
When I turned 16, I was ready for executive duty: sack boy at the local Hy-Vee store. No more smelling like pig, or greasy French fries. Plus, it paid $2.50 an hour, and they worked around my schedule during football and wrestling season. I’d go in on weekends after a football game or a wrestling tournament, sore and exhausted, and sack groceries. It was my first job working for a big company. That in itself taught me a lot about how they operate.
It was a great experience, and what many high school kids did back then in Trenton, Mo.
Spring of the last year of high school, I hauled hay and also worked at the local MFA service station, pumping gas, changing tires and oil, and servicing big trucks too. It was hard work. But I did love it. And I learned a lot about cars and trucks and tires and people too.
Later that summer I got on with an excavation contractor, laying water line in rural North Missouri. That was a prevailing-wage job, and I made some good money right before heading off to college.
In college years, I worked on a construction crew building houses in the summer. That too was hard work, but truly great fun. I learned so much that has been invaluable to me in many ways in the years since, including in my law practice to this very day, a good part of which involves issues relating to construction.
And for the last 34 years, I have been a lawyer, and have represented business owners, farmers, restaurateurs and contractors, among others. Undoubtedly, the work experiences of my youth have been extremely helpful to me.
It wasn’t always fun or easy back then, but those experiences were as much a part of my education as anything I learned in a classroom. A lot of young people these days could benefit from such an education.
Ken Garten is a Blue Springs attorney. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.