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Teaching your Kids: Take Pride in Your Work

"Take pride in your work" is a worthy and often-quoted piece of advice to young people. But like many great pieces of advice, it's hard to really know what that means until you've seen someone in action which truly embodies it. Here's my favorite example of that.

Vikram Sarma grew up in the Detroit suburbs in an area he considered himself privileged to live in. The local auto company executives all had golf club memberships nearby, and that created summer work for kids like him. At the age of thirteen, he got his first job as a caddie at a local country club. He recalls it was an exciting job to get as a young teenager. "I knew I'd get to work outside for the summer, hang out with seventy other guys carrying bags, and make really good money—maybe $100 to $150 a day in cash."

Vikram's first time on the job was a Thursday night when all the new caddies got training. The next morning he was in uniform, waiting with the other boys for their assignments. While in line, he met several of the other caddies. Like Vikram, most were from upper-middle-class neighborhoods, with nicely pressed shorts and new pairs of brand-name shoes. But one of them, Ahmad, was different. Ahmad was an African American boy from a lower-income neighborhood. He was older than Vikram, maybe seventeen or eighteen at the time. His shorts weren't as nicely pressed as those of some of the other boys, and his big toe stuck out of a hole in one of his shoes.

Well, before long, the first two players came in. The caddie master assigned them each a caddie for their round together. The first was Vikram, and the second was Ahmad.

As they went out to the course, Vikram learned something else different about Ahmad. In the fiefdom of caddies, there are five levels of experience and expertise: Beginner, Intermediate, Captain, Honor, and the highest level, Championship. Vikram, of course, was a Beginner. But Ahmad, now in his seventh year, was a Championship caddie.

Well, during that first round, it became clear to Vikram that he'd underestimated how hard it would be to carry thirty pounds on his shoulder while walking six miles of hills on a golf course. "By the ninth hole," he recalls, "only halfway through the round, my knee buckled. I fell and slammed my knee into the ground. And then Ahmad, without saying a word, picked up my bag and started caddying for both golfers. I was amazed. It was seamless as if we'd rehearsed it.

"As I walked off the injury, I thanked him. And he said to me discreetly, "Hey, at the next turn, you're going to have to put some ice on that. I'll show you where the ice machine is.'  "

During the rest of the round, Vikram continued to make rookie mistakes. "At one point, I accidentally left a wedge in the sand trap after I raked it. The next time my golfer needed it, I realized it wasn't there." And, of course, Vikram was in no shape to go back and get it. Nor did he really know if that was the right thing to do at that point anyway. Again, without saying a word, Ahmad handed Vikram the bags and sprinted off to get the missing club.

In another memorable mistake, Vikram was walking backwards after pacing off a distance to the hole and accidentally stepped on the ball of one of the players, smashing it into the turf.

Neither player noticed Vikram's misstep, leaving him wondering what he should do. "Again, Ahmad stepped in, walked up to the player, and said, "I'm sorry, sir. We made a mistake.' Then he explained how he could re-place the ball properly and within the rules of the game."

When the round was over, Vikram was exhausted. "I thought to myself, "Thank God this is over!'  " The players handed in their cards, including a tip, to their caddies.

When the players had gone, Ahmad said to Vikram, "First round, huh?"

"Yeah," Vikram admitted.

That's when Ahmad asked him a very simple and very important question. "What did you learn?"

Wel Vikram gave a not-so-thoughtful answer. "I don't know. That this guy isn't a good tipper?"

And then, with the same patience, he'd shown all day, and again without being asked, Ahmad said, "Okay, let's take a step back and walk through the round. First, always walk three paces ahead of your player. That lets you get to the ball first and have yardage ready. It saves everyone time. Second, think of all the caddies as providing an experience for the golfers. We're a team. So when you hurt your knee, it can't all be about you. It's about the customer enjoying the round. That's why I picked up your bag." And Ahmad went on to diagnose the entire round, every hole, and every relevant stroke—what Vikram did and what he should have done.

It was an eye-opening discussion for Vikram. Ahmad had turned the individual job of a caddie, in Vikram's mind, into a team sport. "It was like what I now know Disney thinks about all the cast members at their theme parks. I was just so blown away." But Ahmad wasn't done teaching, and Vikram wasn't done learning.

Ahmad continued, "I'm not from the best of places. But when I'm here, I have a job to do. If I do it well, it reflects well on who I am and where I come from." And that's when Vikram had his unexpected moment of clarity. That's when he realized that Ahmad took pride in his work because he had pride in himself. And he knew that each one affects the other.

The lessons he learned from Ahmad made a profound impact on Vikram. The most immediate was that he started earning bigger tips because he started taking seriously the job of learning his craft. "I started showing up early and rolling balls on the greens to see which way they would break." He went on to earn his way up to Honor caddie, and faster than most of his peers. And the habit stayed with him. "In every job I've had since, whether it was selling shoes at Athlete's Foot or doing political research in D.C., I took the extra effort to learn it well. I realized if I didn't take pride in my work and really study it, I'd be doing me, my peers, and my craft a disservice."

Okay, when it's time for your child to start working at jobs, big or small, share this story, and then have a conversation about it. Here are some questions to get you started.

  1. What are examples of things people do to show pride in their work?

  2. Why do you think Ahmad went out of his way so much to teach Vikram how to do his job?

  3. What do you think Ahmad meant when he said, "If I do my job well, it reflects well on who I am and where I come from"?

  4. What kinds of things do people do that's how a lack of pride in their work?

  5. If you're not proud of your job, what should you do?

Okay, in the next lesson, we'll talk about not only working hard but making sure you look like you're working hard, too.

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Written by

Paul Andrew Smith