Free Thoughts

The Value of a Dollar

Dollar BillDoor-to-door sales can be one of the most tedious jobs ever—or rather quite interesting. The anticipation of what you will find behind the next door turns into a game of sorts, almost like on Let’s Make a Deal—“What could be behind curtain 3?”—you’re either rewarded with a pleasant surprise, or unfortunately the complete opposite. Luckily, this weekend I happened to find one of those pleasant surprises—the gratifying experience of speaking with an 83-year-old woman named Jeanne.

Jeanne was an amusing woman who at first thought I worked for Verizon and was at her house to fix her phone, but when I gave her my pitch—“I’m Charles with Sungevity…”—she soon welcomed me inside.  It didn’t take long before Jeanne and I began a thought-provoking exchange: it’s funny how moments like that happen. Our conversation on solar energy evolved into Jeanne’s retrospect of her life as a teacher and a key moment that inspired this entry. Amidst her tales of working with children of all ages, she made a significant point that stuck with me:

“Today’s kids don’t understand the value of a dollar!”

Jeanne spoke on how she had picked up a job at the youthful age of ten—right at the beginning of World War II, when everything was being rationed—where she would run errands for the owner of a meat market, who would compensate her with one cut of meat at the end of each day. As Jeanne told her story I gazed into her aged eyes—visualizing her as a young girl working hard to help feed her family—and commended her on her action. Jeanne titled her head down, looked me right in the eye above her glasses lens and, with her pointer finger in the air, said:

I’ll tell you what; it taught me the value of a dollar!”

My talk with Jeanne got me to thinking of how important it is to grasp that seemingly simple concept: The value of a dollar. It seems essential in order to truly appreciate all that you have, and to respect hard work. Growing up in a blue-collar family—with all of my relatives working with their hands to earn a living—I was taught at a young age that success doesn’t come easy. As I grew older and looked to pave my way, I picked up any job I could find to keep me afloat financially; experiencing backbreaking work first-hand. The long, strenuous hours and the crummy pay that followed really taught me the value of a dollar. I started to cut back on my spending, and managed my money smarter: when you’re busting your ass to make $10 an hour, you reassess how important it is to have the “freshest” gear; I learned to cherish the simple things in life over material goods: a free book from the library, or a walk in nature can be a fun time when you’re on a budget; but most importantly my experiences have allowed me to understand how hard people work to make a living, and that we all strive to get by. Seeing the “labor-side” of life inspired me to further my education and put in the effort to graduate with high honors—I knew that I wanted to work my brain, rather than strain my body for the rest of my life. It is a lesson that does not come from a textbook; it can not be shared just through a story: The value of a dollar is something that is learned through hard work—when one has truly earned their way.


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