An honest day’s work for an honest day’s wages is an American colloquialism that has been a call to arms for generations. What does it imply, what does it really mean, and how does it apply to today?

On the surface this statement of fact implies that if you put in the effort, and do what is expected, then you can and should expect a fair wage for your effort.  But it infers the reason for work is to earn money and little more.  On the surface, this statement does not allow for the enjoyment and fulfillment that comes from being good at what you do and investing in quality work – work that can and should provide a sense of accomplishment.  We spend fifty years, or more, working to earn a living; that’s 70% of our lives putting in an honest day’s work for an honest day’s wages.  Shouldn’t it be more meaningful than what this statement implies?

Let’s first define what “work” means?

To many, work is a means to an end, something we do because it is necessary to survive, a process at some level, is painful or a thing to dread.  Far too many people put in their time, punch a clock, do what is necessary to grab that check at the end of the day.  No question, this is a goal we all have, one of critical importance. But is this all there is?

On the other hand, it has been said: “Find what you love to do and never work a day in your life.”  I understand the point being made, but this again points to “work” is normally something to dread, something involving sustained pain or anguish at some level.

Work is a noble pursuit, something to relish rather than regret. I much prefer the definition by Val Kinjerski:

“The spirit in work is about finding meaning and purpose, beyond self, through work.  It involves profound feelings of wellbeing, a belief that one’s work makes a contribution, a sense of connection to others and common purpose, and an awareness of a connection to something larger than self.”

-Val Kinjerski, Ph.D.

This may seem obscure and even a bit naïve to some, but it is an approach that gives back in so many other ways than just financial compensation.  It is an approach that provides an opportunity to greet the day with excitement rather than remorse.

Rather than focus on the word “work” as associated with something we must do, I prefer to emphasize the words “effort and impact”.  To make a difference in our world, to find satisfaction and feel good about ourselves knowing we are purposeful, we must invest in our effort and our impact.

When we do this, the positive results will be felt by all who surround us, and we will be able to look in a mirror and say: “what I do is important”.  To get there we need to INVEST in ourselves and our craft.  Whether what we do is physical, mental, emotional, or all the above – it is this investment that allows us to be impactful. When this happens then work becomes energizing rather than exhausting; inspiring rather than depressing; and fulfilling rather than discouraging. 

“To fulfill a dream, to be allowed to sweat over lonely labor, to be given a chance to create, is the meat and potatoes of life.  The money is the gravy.”

-Bette Davis (actress)

To some, it is rest that they seek.  Not just those closing in on retirement, but even those of the most productive years – middle age.  Is it rest that gives us a feeling of purpose?  Is it rest that brings happiness?  Is it rest that allows us to make a difference?  Dylan Thomas the American poet said it well:

“He who seeks rest finds boredom.  He who seeks work (as it is described above) finds rest.”

-Dylan Thomas

So, as a cook, a chef, or any other restaurant employee how does this apply?  How can we find fulfillment in work and truly make a difference?  Try this on for size:

[]       Assuming we all want to reach a level of confidence drawn from competence, every restaurant employee owes it to themselves to seek excellence in their craft.  INVEST in yourself, seek ways EVERY DAY to improve, to learn, to be inspired, and to grow. Ask others how to improve, connect with resources that allow for this to happen.  Approach each day as an opportunity to add something new to your bag of tricks.  The better you become at your craft, the greater the impact on others, and trust me: THE HAPPIER YOU WILL BECOME.

[]       Know that every task you perform is important.  No task is pointless and certainly no task is worthy of anything less than your best effort.

[]       Relish the opportunity to work with others, share ideas, seek their guidance, and share yours, celebrate their accomplishments and be thankful when they celebrate yours.

[]       Be humble and hungry.  Know where you need to improve and seek out those ways to do so. Be a sponge and soak up all you can.

[]       Sweat the details and know everything counts.

[]       Take pride in how you look, what you know, your willingness to learn, who you are, and the craft you are associated with.

[]       Sign your work.  Look at every task you are assigned as something that carries your signature: “I did this!”  Take pride in the effort and invest in being extraordinary at the work.  It makes no difference if it is mopping the kitchen floor or presenting a beautiful plate of food in the pass – it all counts, it all carries your signature, it is your way to be impactful and fulfilled. Be excellent – make it your habit, not your goal.

“If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as a Michelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, ‘Here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well.”

-Martin Luther King, Jr.

If you do all of this, then you will be on the path to fulfillment, and, by the way – your approach, your skill level, your competence, and your confidence will pay off financially.  Let work be something you look forward to, part of your purpose, your contribution to your own self-worth and your “difference maker”.


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