Back to Blogs

The Hardest Worker I have Ever Known

  • Publish Date: Posted almost 13 years ago
  • Author: Don Palmer

The Hardest Worker I have Ever Known

"What does it take to be successful in the working world?". The Junior Achievement Student from an inner-city Atlanta High School was earnest and sincere in asking this question and she deserved a serious, thoughtful answer. 

Principle #1 - Work Hard. 

Trite? Perhaps, but that’s not by my intended meaning. What I refer to here is a process approach to learning and then applying a tremendous work ethic. Consider it an assignment in discovery for your industry, community, company or among your colleagues.

The Hardest Worker I have Ever Known

The first steps toward this discovery occurred for me during the summer my wife and I got married – back in 1983. I had just completed my sophomore year of college and felt a jumbled mix of carefree excitement and anxiety about the relationship adventure I was embarking upon. The wedding was at the end of Summer, so prior to that, money had to be made in June, July and August and I got a job working on an asphalt paving crew (a decent paying job back in those days). This was heavy duty manual labor. As I began what I assumed would be the drudgery of this work in the midst of one of the hottest summers in Atlanta history. I recall thinking the job would be made more tolerable since I’d be working side-by-side with a fellow who has been one of my best friends since 9th grade in high school.

However, I didn't count on the important life lesson I learned from my good buddy. I have never, even to this day, seen anyone physically work as hard as my friend - and this was extremely demanding physical work dealing with air-hammers and shoveling heavy, HOT asphalt (which strangely enough still has an attractive aroma to me). We worked 10 to 12 hours a day in the middle of a humid and oppressive Deep South summer, Monday through Friday and sometimes on Saturday.

I remember being intimidated and even a bit put off by his efforts. But by the end of the first few days I was attracted by the pure joy - yes, it was clearly intense pleasure – my friend experienced from giving his ALL to the work. Sweating, groaning, straining and yet with focus in his eyes on the task at hand, a smile on his face and sometimes a song on his lips! It was infectious and irresistible to me and soon I joined in with my own attempts at this kind of work effort. It was exhausting - I had nothing left at the end of each day and simply went home, tossed my filthy work clothes in the washer, took a shower, ate some dinner, tossed the washed clothes in the dryer and then collapsed into deep, refreshing sleep in my bed - only to rise early the next morning and do it all over again.  

By the end of the summer, I was able to hang in there with my buddy and even surpass most of the seasoned crew in my work efforts and abilities. This was transformative for me - and a very timely, valuable lesson for a newly married young man. I knew at the end of that summer I did NOT want to do manual labor for a living! I also knew I wanted a professional career - and work inside buildings that had air conditioning! I transferred that asphalt crew work ethic over into my academic studies - and what an easy job being a student was compared to that asphalt paving crew. By the way, if you are a student, then I believe you should view your academic studies as your WORK. I made all "A's" in school throughout my Junior and Senior years and graduated with high honors - something that was key to getting my first job out of school with IBM - an excellent company and a wonderful way to launch my professional life.

#1 Work Hard - Applying the Principle

How do you learn or discover this? Look at "the best" in your chosen profession or the place in life that you find yourself. Whether you are a computer Applications Developer, a stay-home Mom, a college student, an athlete or a crew member for an asphalt paving company => Ask, “Who is the best at doing this job?”. Determine who that person is and observe them working. Ask them "How do you do what you do?", "What motivates you?", and "Why do you do it in certain ways?". These questions will aid your discovery and get you going. Once you start applying the principles you learn from “the best”, ask others for feedback and use their constructive critique to adjust your course. Be a student of yourself (How can I work harder?, What can I do to better prepare myself physically, mentally and emotionally for giving maximum effort on my work?).  

Don't be surprised if you get feedback without asking. Another memory I have from those many years ago on the asphalt paving crew was my buddy and I both receiving a significant raise in hourly wage from our Supervisor. He told us both that we were “The hardest workers he'd ever had on a crew. And you're both crazy too - because you seem to actually enjoy it!"