From a hill, the ripe pumpkin field looks like orange and brown cake batter—swirled, not blended. It’s harvest time, and Alf Buckley is pulling pumpkins, building orange pyramids. It’s back-breaking work; 10–12-hours-a-day work.
“There are things I’d rather be doing,” says Alf, 17, a straight-talking young man with a true New England accent. “But you feel better about yourself after working. Maybe just to know you’re not sitting around the house, watching the tube all day.”
During the summer Alf works six days a week, saving for his mission and technical college. In the fall and winter he works evenings and Saturdays at local farms and for his father’s plumbing business.
Alf isn’t perfect, of course. He has challenges at school and with friends just like any other LDS teenager, but he knows how to work hard, and people recognize his effort.
And in a world where worker theft, tardiness, and lack of motivation are occurring at an alarming rate, that means something.
Pepperell, Massachusetts, is little more than a traffic circle and then a stop sign on a back road to Boston. Downtown is a row of 300-year-old colonial buildings, housing an array of discount stores, pizza places, and insurance agents. Just outside of town, the locals drive the twisting byways at speeds resembling a European auto rally. But it’s a place like many others—a nice place to grow up, a good place to learn the lessons of life. And like Alf Buckley, other LDS youth here seem to be learning those lessons well.
Mike Bruneau’s parents and Church leaders told him that work is something to take seriously, to be honest at, even when it is not very glamorous. He took that advice to heart.
Mike, 15, is working as a temporary custodian for a Pepperell elementary school during the summer. If you have ever pushed a vacuum around your own living room you can probably testify that cleaning is not the most exciting job. Mike says the temptation to slack off at work is strong at times, but he sets goals and takes pride in his work.
“It could be boring because we do a lot of the same things over and over,” Mike said. “So I set a goal to make sure we get everything done before the end of the day.”
Mike also adds that he wants to be a good example because he’s LDS. He has had the opportunity to tell other employees about the Church and feels better about talking religion when others can see what kind of person he is trying to be.
More money passes through Monica Draleau’s hands in a month than most of us will ever see. She works at a bank, of course, just down the road from Pepperell in Shirley, Massachusetts.
Working as a bank teller could be a temptation for some people, but Monica has had little problem keeping her fingers out of the cash box.
“The hardest part for me is remembering the promises I make to people,” Monica, 17, says as she files away a stack of bills. “They will ask for this or that looked up about their account by tomorrow. If their information isn’t ready when you say it will be they don’t look very highly on you. It’s a very small town, and stuff like that gets around quickly.”
And there are other ways to keep your word. Kids at school ask Monica how much money “so and so” makes. While it may be tempting to share the information, Monica respects the obligation she has to the customers.
Rebeccah Davis, 15, has also learned keeping your word is one of the most important parts of a job. She is working after school, baby-sitting. Her commitment to her employer has meant no school sports, fewer get-togethers with friends, and less time for herself.
“The lady I work for counts on me. Since I agreed to do it I need to be dedicated,” says Rebeccah. And because of that dedication, she’s noticed improvements in herself.
“At first I was one of those baby-sitters who sat and watched TV and let the kids do whatever they wanted. But then I started to care for the kids, and I have become a more responsible person. I play with them, take care of them.”
Sixteen-year-old Jason Hunter works for McDonalds in Ayre, another small town up the road. Some employees bring a healthy appetite to this workplace; Jason tries to bring a healthy attitude.
“I decided to learn everything I could about my job—how to make the food, how to work the cash register, everything. And I set a standard of honesty for myself. I’ve seen others look around and then take food. I get hungry, but because I set that standard I wait until after work and buy the food.”
Elizabeth Davis, 16, works at a Pepperell fast-food restaurant. She’s cleaning tables as a tape deck blares in a back room. She says work has been good for her.
“I need to work. I need the responsibility—having people who depend on me to come in and be on time.
“Some days you get in there and say, ‘I don’t want to do this. This is so boring.’ And you’re grumpy at the customers and they are getting mad at you and you realize you have to cut that out.
“It’s helped me deal with people. I used to get kind of flustered around people I didn’t know. But now I can talk and even smile.”
Almost everybody has been tempted, at least once, to spend their tithing money on a compact disc or a new outfit. Part of working is learning to handle the responsibility you have with Heavenly Father.
“Sure, I get tempted to spend my tithing money, but Dad gave me a good way to stay in line,” said Alf. “I slip the money behind a poster on the wall. I can’t see it, and then I don’t spend it. When I pay my tithing the jobs keep coming in.”
“At the end of the banking day we have to take all our debits and credits and balance them,” Monica added. “You have to prove yourself—whether or not you handled yourself well and paid attention. That’s like tithing. Heavenly Father is going to ask for the same kind of account at the end of our lives.
As a rule, it is best to pay your tithing as soon as you receive your paycheck. “If it’s sitting around I might spend it,” says Elizabeth.
Even Alf Buckley doesn’t know exactly when it happened, but he has learned the value of work. Perhaps it was one afternoon when his dad came home exhausted from a long day on the job, and he realized he was looking at an honest man. Whatever made the difference, it was Alf who decided to be the kind of young man he is today.
In a field near Pepperell, Alf is pulling pumpkins, working steady. The field was orange, now it’s brown—the pumpkins are stacked. “My dad taught me how to live, but now I have to take that and do something with it,” he says.
He pauses. “That’s kind of hard in a way. But I can do it.”
According to a nationwide survey of employers, the following characteristics are most desired in an employee. The characteristics are ranked in order of importance. The percentage indicates the number of employers who consider that characteristic “very important.”
Pride in work 64.7%
Respect for authority 57.9%
Getting along with others 52.6%
Good grooming 39.8%
Source: L. Burton, J. Chavez, and C. Kokaska, Journal of Rehabilitation, vol. 53, no. 3, 1987.
Dress appropriately and be neat in appearance. Even if you wear jeans and a T-shirt to work, make sure they are clean and free of holes.
Show up on time and don’t leave early. Limit personal phone calls and visits.
Work steadily. Don’t try to rush things, but don’t loaf.
Be honest in all your dealings. Even seemingly minor acts of dishonesty, like taking a pencil or some food, can lead to major consequences.
Show interest in what you are doing and try to learn more. Be self-starting—look for things that need to be done and do them.
Make friends with your fellow employees. Be respectful to customers and your bosses.
Avoid extremes—showing up two hours early for work, telling your boss he looks nice eight times an hour, or wearing a suit and tie to a construction site are easy ways to make the wrong impression. Relax and be yourself.
If you make a mistake, don’t give up! Admit your error and try to correct it. And don’t fall into the trap of comparing yourself to other workers.
Ask for the Lord’s guidance before each work day and pay an honest tithe.
“Will a man rob God? Yet ye have robbed me. But ye say, Wherein have we robbed thee? In tithes and offerings. …
“Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, … and prove me now herewith, saith the Lord of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing” (Mal. 3:8, 10).