Kennedy: Work ethic is a trusty measure of success

Kennedy: Work ethic is a trusty measure of success

February 22nd, 2019 by Mark Kennedy in Opinion Columns

Last Sunday, my 12-year-old son and I drove to Home Depot to buy lumber.

He had measurements in his head and a tape measure in his pocket. He said he needed three plywood boards, each 24 inches long by 8 inches wide, and also some door hinges and some hook-and-eye locks.

Mark Kennedy

Mark Kennedy

Photo by Doug Strickland /Times Free Press.

I'd like to report this is a father-son project, but it's not. I am not handy that way; I was just the chauffeur. This was a son-son project, and our 17-year-old was the 12-year-old's technical adviser.

For a couple of weeks, our younger son has been building a wooden trailer. He says it's to connect to his bicycle to haul his pressure washer around the neighborhood. He made several hundred dollars cleaning driveways and patios last year. To build his wagon, he used the wheels salvaged from a little red wagon, and he has made the trailer bed from plywood.

He just had 500 business cards printed up with his motto: "High-pressure cleaning, low-pressure sales." (I did not write that, but I think it works. I think he got it from one of his muses, Alexa or Siri.)

Sadly, my uninformed opinion is that his wagon won't work. The sheer weight of the pressure washer and the wagon made with 3/4-inch plywood make it unlikely that he will be able to pull the load with his bike for any distance. My sister has offered to let her two Great Danes pull it like a horse-drawn carriage. I think this is a genius marketing plan, but my son won't bite.

That said, he has worked hours and hours on his wagon. If nothing else, it has been a diversion from screen time. Even if it doesn't pan out, he will have had fun drilling and sawing. And it illustrates his commitment to independence. Last year, I drove him to a pressure-washing job site and he tried to pay me $20.

On the way to Home Depot, the conversation turned to college. I gave him an update on his college fund balance, and he extrapolated in his head how much more money he needs to pay for tuition and room and board.

"Well, if you've been saving money since I was a baby and there's six years left before I got to college, I'll probably have about 50 percent more then than I do now," he estimated.

"OK, let's say you are still $10,000 short of what you need for four years of college. How could you raise the money?" I asked.

"Well, I could make straight A's," he said.

"Yep, you could get an academic scholarship," I said. "What else?"

"Well, I could always get a part-time job," he said.

"Yes, you could do pressure-washing on the weekends," I said. "What else?"

"Well, there's always financial aid," he said. "I guess I could borrow some money from the bank."

"Yes, that's another option," I said.

I thought to myself, "Wow. That's pretty impressive analysis from a 12-year-old."

It occurred to me that learning carpentry and paying for college have some things in common. Both require math skills and understanding of scale. Both endeavors require hard work and a tolerance for trial and error. But more than anything, both require a knack for solving problems with numbers.

When we arrived at Home Depot, he found a piece of plywood that measured 2 feet by 2 feet and immediately asked one of the workers there to cut it into three equal-width pieces.

"Well, we're not really supposed to cut it that small, but I'll do it because I like your coat," said the man.

The boy smiled. When you're a 12-year-old carpenter/businessman who knows how to make eye contact and shake hands, the sky is the limit.

When we got home, he worked on the wagon awhile and then decided to detail his mother's car in the dark. To do this, he duct-taped a flashlight to his head. Later, he cleaned out the garage, just because he likes jobs that let you step back and see your work.

"I don't think we are going to have to worry about this child making a living," I texted my wife.

"Agree," she texted back.

The "work" gene is a wonderful thing.

Contact Mark Kennedy at or 433-757-6645.

Getting Started/Comments Policy

Getting started

  1. 1. If you frequently comment on news websites then you may already have a Disqus account. If so, click the "Login" button at the top right of the comment widget and choose whether you'd rather log in with Facebook, Twitter, Google, or a Disqus account.
  2. 2. If you've forgotten your password, Disqus will email you a link that will allow you to create a new one. Easy!
  3. 3. If you're not a member yet, Disqus will go ahead and register you. It's seamless and takes about 10 seconds.
  4. 4. To register, either go through the login process or just click in the box that says "join the discussion," type your comment, and either choose a social media platform to log you in or create a Disqus account with your email address.
  5. 5. If you use Twitter, Facebook or Google to log in, you will need to stay logged into that platform in order to comment. If you create a Disqus account instead, you'll need to remember your Disqus password. Either way, you can change your display name if you'd rather not show off your real name.
  6. 6. Don't be a huge jerk or do anything illegal, and you'll be fine.

Chattanooga Times Free Press Comments Policy

The Chattanooga Times Free Press web sites include interactive areas in which users can express opinions and share ideas and information. We cannot and do not monitor all of the material submitted to the website. Additionally, we do not control, and are not responsible for, content submitted by users. By using the web sites, you may be exposed to content that you may find offensive, indecent, inaccurate, misleading, or otherwise objectionable. You agree that you must evaluate, and bear all risks associated with, the use of the Times Free Press web sites and any content on the Times Free Press web sites, including, but not limited to, whether you should rely on such content. Notwithstanding the foregoing, you acknowledge that we shall have the right (but not the obligation) to review any content that you have submitted to the Times Free Press, and to reject, delete, disable, or remove any content that we determine, in our sole discretion, (a) does not comply with the terms and conditions of this agreement; (b) might violate any law, infringe upon the rights of third parties, or subject us to liability for any reason; or (c) might adversely affect our public image, reputation or goodwill. Moreover, we reserve the right to reject, delete, disable, or remove any content at any time, for the reasons set forth above, for any other reason, or for no reason. If you believe that any content on any of the Times Free Press websites infringes upon any copyrights that you own, please contact us pursuant to the procedures outlined in the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (Title 17 U.S.C. § 512) at the following address:

Copyright Agent
The Chattanooga Times Free Press
400 East 11th Street
Chattanooga, TN 37403
Phone: 423-757-6315