This past weekend Miranda and I drove down to Baltimore to spend a few days with my parents.  Outside of the absolutely dreadful traffic on I-95, it was a perfectly pleasant weekend.  We had nice weather on Saturday, we got to visit my grandparents, and we cooked dinner out on the grill; overall a great weekend.

It’s funny how driving through your hometown brings back old memories.  I visit Baltimore a fair bit, but I usually take the train.  Driving is an altogether different experience.  Winding through the back roads of Baltimore County, I am met at almost every turn by a different memory from my younger years.

The route I used to run to get in shape for sports season.

The homes of my childhood friends.

The auto garage I used to work at for a few summers.

The house I worked on when I did construction…

I slowed slightly and took a good look at the house.  It was my very first job.  The summer between junior and senior year of high school I worked on a construction crew for a general contractor.  It was far from a glamorous job.  I spent most of the time sweeping, knocking down walls, and, the least desirable of all, rearranging the garbage in the dumpster to make room for more garbage.

It’s not as easy as it sounds.  Our crew used to get 30-yard dumpsters and park them in the street outside of the construction site.  We would pay a flat fee (several hundred dollars) for as much trash as we could fit into the dumpster, so arranging the trash efficiently was pretty valuable.  Also, the order of placing the trash in the dumpster mattered too.  The key was to put the bulky items in first (an old bathtub, toilets, doors, stairs, windows) and then the smaller stuff (bricks, cinder blocks, broken pieces of wood) and then finally the really small stuff (sand and dirt).  Efficiently packing dumpsters I was probably able to save my crew about $300/week.  Since they only paid me about $250/week, I felt like I was adding incredible value right out of the gate.

Over the years I haven’t had a chance to exercise many of the skills I learned working construction (fortunately, I haven’t been back in a dumpster since).  However, a few life lessons have stuck with me; lessons that apply just as much in a corporate office in New York as they do in a dumpster in Baltimore County.  Chief among them is that value creation comes from hard work.  Since that summer, I’ve had several different jobs and I’ve learned how to add value in hundreds of new ways, I’ve learned how to leverage others (and allow others to leverage me) to amplify the value that I can create, and I’ve traded in my work boots and overalls for leather shoes and a dress shirt.  But over all these years and all the experiences that I’ve had, one lesson still rings as true as ever:

Value creation comes from hard work and dedication.  There is no other way.

Summer Jobs and Hard Work
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  • Nice message from a personal/motivational standpoint… but I’m sort of a cynic, so I’ll just say that this is pretty close to the labor theory of value.

    Value is an interesting concept; I’d prefer to describe it as “making life better for people” in some fashion; easier, faster, cheaper, more fun, whatever.

    I think hard work is valuable, but I wouldn’t want to fetishize it. Hard work, on its own, doesn’t amount of value. Hard work and dedicated can get you to where you’re going faster, or with fewer troubles, but you need to be doing the right thing first.
    And at that point, you may find diminishing marginal returns to working harder. (Well, basically by definition). The point at which your hard work ceases to materially add value is probably a question worth asking, since there are other things you can do with your time.
    So: Personally, I wouldn’t consider hard work either sufficient nor necessary to create value.
    I will agree that, ceteris paribus, working hard will leave you (the individual) better off than not, simply because your hard work is likely to be recognized and you be rewarded. There’s also a broader philosophical argument about that, which is beside the point.