Opening Words from Sun. August 14 by Teri Bennett: "Work Ethic"

Some of you may recognize me as a former employee here. I see a lot of new-to-me faces in the crowd, which is a great thing for the Ethical Society. To you, I extend an invitation to get to know me. I’m really a fun person.

As a former employee, it’s fitting that I will be talking about work ethic today. I’ve been thinking a lot about work ethic and what that truly means, mostly because of some health challenges that I have been dealing with recently. I’ll talk a little more about that later. The basic definition of work ethic is, “A belief in the moral benefit and importance of work and its inherent ability to strengthen character.”

As a former single teen mom, working sometimes two or three jobs while attending school off and on for 20 (something) years, I didn’t have time to think about how my working was strengthening my character or to put much into the moral benefits of work. My mind was on the hustle and grind of trying to take care of myself and my child, on providing food and shelter. When I came to work at the Ethical Society in May of 2008 another hustle and grind gig became so much more.

I worked as a member of the Event Staff, and for about a year and a half as your, “Sunday Morning Person,” a job that Debbie now does so well. I didn’t last longer in the Sunday morning position because quite frankly, you all drove me a little crazy with your picky coffee needs. I finally threw my hands in the air, telling you all to make your own coffee because I was OUT! Luckily, I didn’t go too far. As a part of the Ethical Society’s Event Staff, I found a sense of ownership and self-responsibility that I didn’t have in other positions.

At night when it was just myself, the rental clients, and their guests, I RAN this place. This was MY house. I took so much pride in each job and no matter how menial the task, be it taking out the trash; cleaning the restrooms; or rearranging tables in the auditorium, I wanted to do my best. I wanted to make this place comfortable for the next person’s shift and for all the members to enjoy the facilities. I have to admit that I may have gone just a little overboard with the sense of ownership. Kate Lovelady can attest to a couple of tearful conversations where I was worried that, “People just aren’t respecting this position or this building.” Yeah, I was a bit much! For all that I put into each job over the years I was rewarded with your kindness, your genuine gratitude; getting to know you, some on a personal level; and as a “close outsider” witnessing your own sense of ownership and self-responsibility to the community you’re creating.

In 2014, I had the opportunity to study abroad in Thailand, through Webster University, or as I like to call it, “My Son Turned 18 and I Ran Away From Home.” It was a journey of firsts for me. It was the first time I lived alone, it was the first time I would l not have a job for months, and it was the first time I would get sick with an illness that I am dealing with currently. Upon returning to America, I could no longer do the physical work that comes with the event staff position. I could no longer work at my beloved Ethical Society.

I finally graduated college this past May. My son is no longer living at home. For the first time in my adult life, I am simply responsible for myself…something that is both liberating and terrifying. I’ve been feeling “lost” without the structure of school. I’m also still unable to work because of my health. However, I am able to look back on what I’ve learned through working here. I can apply that sense of ownership and self-responsibility to managing my health care and being responsible for this second half of my life journey.

Thank you for being that model. Thank you for not only talking the talking, but also walking the walk. Thank you for demonstrating the meaning of work ethic.

NOTE: The ideas and opinions in this post do not necessarily express the thoughts or opinions of the Ethical Society of St. Louis or its leadership.