Best day at work ever isn’t what you think, and it didn’t take a day. It took several months. Or as we called it, a season.
And I didn’t have a job yet either. I was 12 years old and working on the family farm.
We had a retail nursery and 90% of the plants we sold were purchased wholesale. But my parents had a few acres and grew stock on those. So not quite a proper “farm” either, but my dad would sometimes take some hours away from the shop while my mom minded the store and till the fields. That meant jumping onto the old cub tractor and lowering the plough to pull up the weeds, but mostly to loosen the soil so that rain wouldn’t spill off. I followed up with a hoe, by hand.
So 12-year-old-Bryan went out to the field with his hoe after the tilling and noticed that some of our stock, young arbor vitae just under 3-feet tall, had been pulled up. It wasn’t due to distraction and turning the tractor poorly on my dad’s part – they’d been pulled because the roots were near the surface and spread outward rather than down.
Just a few trees out of hundreds – they’d been left to die, days had passed and they were seemingly beyond salvation – so I went to my dad with an offer.
“Let me ball and bag them” – that’s the term for how they are dug with roots and earth contained in burlap for inventory, “Let me ball and bag them to save them, I’ll water and care for them, but please let me sell them at half the cost of the others on the sales lot, but I get to keep 80% of the money.”
Not sure he knew what I was up to, but he always liked when I took interest. Maybe he was distracted. Maybe my 12-year-old mind picked the just right time that he’d say yes. Point is, I knew he kept his promises and he went for it.
So I rescued those four or five trees. I dug them, packed the earth with sod in burlap, and put them out back behind our house. I watered them daily, and what seemed dead came back to life. I watered them daily. Over the course of the summer, what seemed dead came back to life. They grew, and I trimmed them back harder than I would the normal inventory.
After the summer, by September, they looked better than what remained of the normal inventory. Deeper green. More full. Not quite as big as the others, but I want to say even more healthy. I sold them with a little sign I made for them with a marker, twine, and cardboard.
They sold immediately.
I don’t know how I spent the money I made at age 12. Maybe a video game, and I loved the Commodore 64 at the time. I could program on it, but it was an early console too. I might have bought a gift, or shown up at school with flowers for a girl I liked. Not sure. But I did bring those trees back to life, and strong. I did profit from it. I did save something.
This is how I approach work. Whether I am working with a client, as staff at university, or more recently as a true “worker” in a company, I’m always trying to find ways to profit from things people either people have missed, forgotten, or simply left for dead.
It’s not always the best approach I admit. There is a definite vibe of “show up, do as, cash check, get by” out there. I’m terrible at that. I’m the 12-year-old who hates waste and sees opportunity.
Bryan Lindenberger is a lifelong writer who has worked in higher education, outreach for veterans, nonprofits, and programs benefiting persons with disabilities entering STEM fields. He currently works in digital communications for a small, industrial manufacturer in Florida.