03/27/2012 08:55 am ET | Updated May 27, 2012

Earn Your Keep

Do you remember your first job? I do. I lied to get it.

I wanted to work as a beverage girl at a buffet restaurant, but I was only fifteen. The law required you to be sixteen. So I lied. So, apparently, had several other teenagers. One night the dessert girl got an attack of honesty and confessed to the floor manager -- during a huddle in the walk-in freezer where they kept tubs of cherry filling and whipped cream and chocolate shavings -- that she was underage. She got fired instantly, and the manager said, "I know there are others." He started with the salad girl and worked his way back down the line toward the beverages -- and me. One by one his employees fell like dominoes.

I was sick. I waited for the axe. Instead I got, "Please tell me you're not..." I'm not saying I worked any harder than the others, but the manager apparently thought so. I kept water glasses filled and coffee pots going and checkout girls backed up as if entire civilizations depended on it. I didn't know there was such a thing as a "nothing" job -- turns out there isn't -- and I gave this one everything I had. When I got a ten-cent raise -- from a dollar sixty-five an hour! -- well, I still get a little puffy thinking about it.

"How long before you're sixteen?" the manager asked. A couple of months. He patted me on the back. "Let's just see how it goes..."


At the ripe old age of fifteen years and ten months I was already a big fan of working hard. But to have that hard work rewarded in such a unique way, I was hooked. I marched on for the next fifteen years or so with the belief that hard work defines you -- and is the only excuse you have for being on the planet, really. To contribute, to save money, and to be a good kid -- which I have since amended to include... not lying.