I come from hardy stock. Strong work ethic rooted in a strong love for God and selflessness toward others.
Both my grandmothers were single mothers in the 1940s. My maternal grandmother took over her husband’s sales route with a tobacco company, and by the 1970s, she owned a tobacco wholesale business that serviced several counties. Her philanthropic heart was just as large. She decorated eggs, and every Palm Sunday, she opened her home and invited her community to see her eggs and donate to the first unwed mothers’ home in her town.
My paternal grandmother was a Rosie the Riveter for a shipyard during World War II. She was known in my hometown as Big Mama. Though her frame was small, her heart was big. Well into her 80s, she still walked to and from the grocery store while taking her famous fried pies to neighbors and nearby businesses.
And both these women were prayer warriors. Praying for just about anything and everyone to the God they loved. They prayed for me as they taught me about hard work. I used to joke with my friends that our family spelled F-U-N with four letters—W-O-R-K.
Like I said, I come from hardy stock. My parents didn’t fall far from the oak trees under which they were raised. Though they were high on education, they also thought it was important to never shy away from manual labor.
It was 1976 and the summer before my high school senior year. My father sat his youngest child down for a father-daughter chat. He gave me the college talk. About money that wasn’t much there. Leaving home. Choosing a career. And to my surprise, that career didn’t necessarily mean a college degree.
He offered this advice, “I know you like doing hair—for yourself and your friends. My aunt and uncle owned a beauty shop, and I worked there when I was a little boy. How about you learn a trade during your senior year?” I liked the idea.
From an early age, my father had taught all of his children how to barter, so he encouraged me to go to the beauty salon where my mother got her hair done and ask if I could work for them for free. Yes, he said FREE. I was a little shell-shocked, but I kept my composure and listened. “In exchange,” he said, “ask them if they will teach you how to cut, perm, color, and style hair.”
Long story short: I did whatever the ladies told me to do—sweep the floor, answer the phone, clean the bathroom, etc. And in exchange, they kept their end of the bargain. At the end of nine months, I had a trade! And not a dime had changed hands. I gained skills that not only helped me get through college (yes, I earned a degree, and not just one but three), but also have saved me thousands of dollars on hair care, have allowed me to improve people’s self-esteem at homeless shelters, and have allowed me to make a side income when times were tough and I needed a second job to make ends meet.
Over the years, I have appreciated my sturdy stock gene pool and sage advice offered by my elders. And today, I am a psychotherapist and career coach. I often give young people the same advice my father gave me. No matter how much book learning you get, you will always find work to do with your hands in helping others. So, open a book. And learn. And ask to learn a trade in a field you enjoy in exchange for your labor. You’ll be amazed at how far you can go!