Having recently celebrated Labor Day, I enjoyed a moment to reflect on both the importance of the work performed by my amazing office staff and the importance of work in general. I’m grateful I learned the value of labor when I was young by working during the summers from the age of 10–21. I learned many lessons there that I’ve carried with me throughout my life.
Yes, you read that right — I started working at the age of 10. Back when I was growing up, employers didn’t pay much attention to age. Coming from a family of six kids, if you wanted pocket money, you had to earn it yourself. I was good at working in the yard with my dad, so I thought I could use those skills to make a bit of cash over my summer vacation.
My friend and I decided to start a handyman business. We printed up business cards so we could look professional as we went door-to-door asking our neighbors if they needed help with any odd jobs. As soon as we got the cards printed, my partner bailed. That was my first lesson in business! I had to cross out his name on every business card before I handed it out. Inevitably, people receiving the cards would ask what happened to my partner, and I always responded, “I think he decided he liked summer play more than summer work.”
I started getting odd jobs, and Jerry Lockwood — administrator for the local summer camp at the Old Mill swimming park in Woodcliff Lake, New Jersey— heard about me through the grapevine. It seems I got good reviews from my customers, and it lead to my being hired to keep the Old Mill Park clean. I worked at the park for several years and then worked for the Department of Public Works. At the DPW, I did whatever needed to be done. One year, I even painted the entire police station! In total, I worked for my home town for 12 summers before heading off to medical school.
My proudest accomplishment was the year I fixed a leak at an Olympic-sized pool in the park. No one could find the source of the leak, and thousands of gallons of water were being lost weekly. Luckily, I had both a scuba diving certification and an idea. I thought I could use scuba gear to swim around the entire pool and check every seam with food coloring. I’d squirt the food coloring near the seam and see if the color disappeared into the walls. If it did, I’d fill the seam with putty until it no longer sucked the food coloring away. My bosses had nothing to lose and let me try it — and it worked! The pride I felt in repairing the pool was worth all the hours in cold water with no wetsuit.
As a kid, I felt like I could take on any job. Once when I was 14 and still running my handyman business, a woman asked if I could put a new roof on her garage. I said “sure,” but I had never put down a roof. In those days, we didn’t have Google, so I went to the library and found a handyman magazine that laid out the whole process. I read about how to line up the shingles with a snap line and how to create a watertight seal, and I thought it looked pretty straightforward — so I replaced the roof. Whenever there was a job I had no experience with, I would always just said yes and then learned how to do it. (I should note that this is not my approach to eyelid surgery! I’ve been welltrained on every procedure I perform.)
As an adult, I have such appreciation for the fulltime DPW workers who labored alongside me. They worked hard every day and were willing to share their time and experience with me. The determination and perseverance I learned from them would help me throughout college, medical school, ophthalmology residency, and oculoplastic fellowship training.
Many years later, I’m lucky enough to have my own practice, and I work with a great team every day. Four staff members work in the office with me, and they all contribute immensely to the quality of care we are able to deliver to our patients. I feel blessed that I work with such an amazing team, and I’m so appreciative of their kindness and the superb care they deliver each and every day.
Finally, I’m grateful for your labor, too! Whatever you do, thank you for working every day to help us enjoy our lives and make the U.S. a great place to live. Happy belated Labor Day!