Donahoe Kearney - March 2020


March 2020

ANTICIPATING AND ACTING FAST Values and Lessons From Hard Work

“A good employee is someone who anticipates what’s needed and acts on it.”

That is what a guy I was working with at my first job told me one day, and it stuck with me. I was 16 years old, and I was working for a landscaping company called Down to Earth Landscaping. Two guys in their 30s (who I thought were so old), who had been friends forever, started and ran the company out of their house. All throughout the week, we would cut grass and do weed eating for apartment complexes, shopping complexes, and bigger homes. On the weekends, they would take on bigger landscaping and carpentry jobs building decks and fences. I made $4.25 an hour during the week, and I got overtime pay on the weekends, which was awesome because that was $5.50 an hour. I worked for Down to Earth that summer and during all my breaks from school. Early every morning, I would load the trucks, top off the gas in the mowers and weed eaters, and generally make sure everything we needed for the day was in working order. Then, we would start the day. Unfortunately, I didn’t pick up any of the carpentry or handyman skills (ask my wife), but I still learned a lot. I often worked with a guy named Tim who really hustled to make ends meet — he worked as an auto mechanic during the week and the lead carpenter for this company on the weekends. He was probably about 25, married with kids, and had left college after the first year. He wasn’t happy that some teenage kid was his new helper. But I watched pretty closely and started getting him the supplies he needed before he asked for them. If it looked like he was going to need more decking boards or more cement bags, I went and got some. When he finished working in a certain area, I would clean up any trash or debris left behind or get the tools and equipment we needed for the next part of the job. After about a month of working with Tim, he gave me the ultimate compliment, inviting me to drink beer with him and the crew (sorry, Mom!) as we finished up a job one hot Saturday afternoon.

I also got a chance to see how the bosses and the other workers interacted with clients. I learned how to talk to the people we worked for and tell them about the work we were doing in a way that made them feel comfortable. As a lawyer, I don’t use any of the trade skills I may have learned working in construction and landscaping, but I still pride myself on that work ethic. I remember the real value and satisfaction of a hard day’s work and the feeling of depositing my paycheck in the bank at the end of the week, of course. I have Down to Earth Landscaping to thank for all that and for getting me started. And I used that experience and what I learned to get an even higher-paying job (pretty sure it was $6 an hour!) as a commercial construction laborer the next summer.

Why didn’t I go back to work for Down to Earth?

Well, this story had a happy ending for me. But the two guys who owned the business? Turns out one of them was committing tax fraud … so the business closed early during my second summer with them, and he ended up going to jail. (Tim told me it was because he gave beer to a 16-year-old worker — and I almost believed him!)

-Frank Kearney

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