The dignity of work

Through work, we not only contribute to the community and meet personal needs, but also gain a sense of fulfillment.

No matter what view you have of the working world, most would agree that humans were not created to be stagnant. We constantly busy ourselves; whether that be in work, academics, or family; seeking to find value in every hour.

My first job was at fourteen years old. It was a bakery down the street from my house as a dishwasher. This wasn’t glamorous, but I found value in being able to make a small income and have a bit more freedom. As I moved through high school, I became a pastry chef and started working as one of the main bakers. I worked at that bakery for five years until I moved to Mississippi to pursue higher education in 2019. Work has included jobs involving hard labor, desk work, and many things in between.

I was raised in a culture where work was held at a high value. Teens were encouraged to work starting at a young age. It gave kids a sense of independence being able to pay for their own things and taught important financial lessons from a very young age.

It helped me to build a sense of responsibility. When you are 16 and getting up early for a morning shift to get your workday started hours before school starts, it gives a sense of purpose outside of studies. It gave me something to work toward and allowed me to be able to have more freedom and save money to put towards things I wanted to do. I gained lessons in financial responsibility at a young age, something many teens don’t get, unfortunately. By the time I got to college, I had become familiar with how to budget and how paychecks needed to be split.

I carried these skills to adulthood. I was able to communicate well and work with adults early on which helped me build a professional and personal skillset. Working alongside people with higher experience taught me how to fail and take good criticism well, how to adapt and learn quickly, and not be afraid to ask questions. I began building comfortable relationships with more experienced co-workers and gaining confidence in the skills that I had worked hard to sharpen.

Work didn’t come without its struggles. I often felt a divide between others my age. I had to say no to things other kids were doing. I had to earn the trust with customers.

Increased financial security and maturity aside, learning how to prioritize life was something I had to learn quickly. Working as a teenager also came with full-time school, athletics, and extracurriculars. I was a pastry chef, a karate black belt, and had bought my first car out of pocket by the time I was sixteen, all while making my way through high school. Each commitment took sacrifice at different stages.

Work teaches you how to juggle various things in my life early on helped me transition into college and sort out my time commitments and priorities. Now being in my third year at Mississippi College, knowing how to work has allowed me to pay my own way through college and given me many opportunities to advance in my career.

Most of all, these things taught me the importance of saying “no” many times in order to have a valuable and trustworthy “yes.” Just because we have the capacity to do something doesn’t mean we should do it. Work is valuable and so is building relationships and boundaries within those work environments. We have some choice over the scale of our own life; we have the ability, authority, and freedom to make them smaller or larger. Our comfort zones are as big or small as we would like to make them and there is value in teens being able to expand themselves in the working world outside of their comfort zones early in their life.

Work gives us the ability to pay our bills. It also provides dignity and a sense of purpose. In some cases, it provides redemption. As individuals, we should seek out work. We should teach people early on that work is a good thing. And as a state, we should make it as easy as possible for individuals to work by removing regulations and other needless barriers. After all, work is the fabric that the United States was founded upon. We should celebrate it.