I grew up in a small country town, a town I still live close to and visit regularly. My family have lived a long time in this town and have had many businesses and roles there. Some of my family still live there and run businesses. I run four businesses now and with my children growing up, they are working more in my businesses which has lead me to reflect on – when did I start work and what did it look like?
I remember my first job working after school in a butcher’s shop, which is still the same business now, run by the same man. I use to clean up to help a butcher close. I would wash dishes, floors and cabinets and did a lot of scraping of things, especially the fat off the floor. It wasn’t a pretty job but I remember feeling it was great to be working and getting a taste for life out of school, I was 12.
I always held this as my starting point for work, I thought this is where I officially ‘started work’, but then I considered it more… I was always helping out around the house. I remember pleading with my Dad to mow the lawn and that was at an age I wasn’t even strong enough to start it. I remember pushing my parent’s car out of the shed to wash it every chance I got. I loved working and no one had to ask me to do it, any chance I got I was working. It was a routine in our house like many to have chores, like washing and wiping up the dishes, putting away clothes, sweeping floors etc. I would do these but no one ever asked me to mow the lawn or wash the car etc., however I would plead to be able to do it, little did my parents know I would have done extra chores to do other work like this. I saw this as an extra responsibility, extra support for us all and plus there was a satisfaction in seeing it done when you had just felt to do it and not to have been asked or told.
I remember school holidays for me were full of work. I would go truck driving with my cousins, work in my uncle’s motorbike and pump shop and serve petrol at my cousin’s petrol station. There was always some work to do that I would put my hand up for. No one had to encourage me, it was naturally how we lived and naturally how my family was. My parents are both great people and workers, in fact my entire family are known for their great work ethic but there was no pressure for me to live up to this. I was more than happy to work because for me it seemed so natural from so young and I guess it came from a sense of independence. There were always things to do and I loved being active around people. Everything I loved about work was the fact that you were always around and learning about people. I remember when I was older my mother showed me a baby photo of when I couldn’t even walk and I had a cloth in my hand and I was wiping the wheels of one of our family cars. It’s ironic that now I own and run a car detailing business. How does someone so young pick this up so naturally? You watch the people around you and do what they do, and it is equally about how strong this influence is on you from so young. Consider me as a baby polishing car wheels to me now as a 44 year old man continuing the same thing…
It made me wonder, as I know now and remember the pressure on young people to know what they want to do or be or to work. As I said, I remember this pressure but at the same time it wasn’t a huge step into work or a pressure in that sense because I was always working. Working like I did built a part of me that when it came to leaving school or changing jobs or finding work, I wasn’t shy, put off or under pressure. It simply felt like it was the next thing to do and in other words, I had already been working and living it and so I wasn’t starting something that could be daunting – I was simply continuing what I had already built. There was a great support network around me and yes I mean my family, but the whole town was like this. Most shop owners in the town had young people of all different ages working with them. The young people weren’t just sitting around, they started like I did; cleaning floors and mopping out. It wasn’t the type of work necessarily that was important but more the experience that was gained. I was a very shy child and working while at school gave me an opportunity to explore more relationships where I was seen in a different light. Working gave me an instant respect for myself, for others and from others, after all, I was doing what adults did in a child’s body and people respected anything I did.
Fast-forward to today, where my children are now working in our businesses and things have come full circle. I can see the great opportunity that supporting children to have a taste of what work is like brings, and allows them to continue to walk into as they grow. It’s not a – leave school and now work situation. We have many ‘juniors’ working with us and watching some of them develop has been an amazing experience, and some are now able to virtually run the front of the businesses at young ages. I can already see how this supports them and everyone; it allows children to grow into the world naturally, without the pressure to start work at a certain age.
As a society we do put too much pressure on children to be something and then at other times we just leave them to be and it seems when things are at there best we supporting them to grow. Remember when you couldn’t walk? It was one step at a time and your parents were there for that step no matter how long it took you to master it, encouraging and appreciating any part you did, showing people what you were doing and no matter what always simply celebrating you. Work is no different, it starts early and you take it one step at a time and we should encourage and appreciate it any chance we get. What is work and what was work for me, work was always about and around people, it wasn’t a chore but more a support for everything around me. To me now I can’t define work as work and if I look back to when it all started work was about many things but the main thing it was always about was being with people.