There is no shortage of the amount of stuff kids can learn today. From computer coding or foreign languages, to personalized sports training to high-end cooking and baking, to an almost endless supply of science and math classes—there are plenty of options out there.
But are some things better to learn than others? Or better yet, is there a single thing that kids can learn than trumps all the others? Is there one main thing that could be the most important thing for your children to learn?
I suggest that the answer is a resounding yes.
There is one thing that matters the most when teaching children and teens—and even adults. When this one thing is learned, everything else has a tendency to fall into place. And what is that one thing that every kid, teen, and adult should learn?
It’s work ethic.
There’s no replacement or substitute for work ethic. You could have raw talent coming out of your ears, but if you never learn to work, it won’t get you very far. You could have all the ambition in the world, but if you have no work ethic, you’ll never make a dime. On the other hand, you could be just a regular joe, but with a strong work ethic, you could do amazing things.
In fact, history is littered with people who were supposedly mediocre or average who went on to do great things. That’s because they learned to work, and they worked hard, and they worked tirelessly.
Think of Mother Teresa. She was not particularly talented at drawing, or writing, or speaking, or cleaning, or sports, or any number of things. She was, by all standards, pretty ordinary. But what she lacked in raw talent, she made up for in hard work. Can anyone doubt her work ethic? Can anyone doubt the sheer volume of good that woman did for the world, simply because she worked hard?
And that’s just it. She worked hard. She worked long hours. She worked, and worked, and worked, even when it wasn’t fun. Even when it was cold or wet or rainy or miserable. Even when she didn’t feel well.
A few years ago, I heard a story about a young man who got invited to come to an activity in which a group was going to be pruning fruit trees in a large orchard. When the morning came to go to work, the young man opted to stay home and sleep in.
Later, when the young man met up with one of the older men who helped organize the event, the older man questioned the boy. He asked, “Why didn’t you come to work yesterday?” The boy was sheepish in his reply: “I was tired and didn’t feel well”. Then came the life lesson. The old man looked the young man right in the eye and told him this fundamental truth: “Most of the work done in the world today is done by people who are tired and don’t feel well.”
That story has stuck with me over the years, and I’ve seen it again and again: the true measure of a person’s work ethic is how hard they’re willing to work even when they don’t feel well. Even when they’re tired. Even when it’s not convenient. Even when it’s not fun.
“The true measure of a person’s work ethic is how hard they’re willing to work even when they don’t feel well.”
So why work ethic? Is it really the most important thing for a person to learn? Is it really number one on the list? Well, let’s look at it this way. If a person never learns to work and to do the job when things get tough, will they truly develop their talents? If a person never learns work ethic, will they ever truly succeed in life?
Because anything of value in life comes from hard work. This includes school, employment, sports, talents, health, and relationships. What happens to the person who’s afraid to work and to work hard, and then they get into a relationship that needs work? What happens when their marriage has problems? Or what if their career takes a turn for the worse? Or their company is faltering? Or their child needs serious long-term help? What happens to that person who doesn’t know how to roll up their sleeves and get to work?
They fall down. They give up. They falter.
Does that lead to happiness? Does that lead to success? Does that lead to self-fulfillment? Nope.
What about the person who DOES have work ethic? They will be successful, no matter what life throws at them. Plus, they’ll enjoy whatever talents they have. Work ethic is the key to unlocking all the other abilities. It’s resilience. It’s being stalwart in the face of adversity. If you have a strong work ethic, you will succeed at sports, relationships, school, work, family, and life.
If you know how to work, you can develop the talents you have been given. If you know how to work, you can make your relationships better and stronger. If you know how to work, you don’t have to fear or be afraid of adversity or when times get tough. You already know how to persevere and get the job done.
The greatest thing we can learn is work ethic. Once we have developed that, everything else falls into place.
It all starts with learning to love to work.