It’s Halloween season, and one of the reasons we should be scared is because seven out of 10 Americans are so broke they don’t have enough money saved to cover a $1,000 emergency. These Americans live paycheck to paycheck. They know that if they ever experience a short-term layoff or a medical crisis, they will be in big financial trouble. I meet people all the time in my law practice who are living this way. Most of them are decent, honest individuals who are dedicated to their families.
People who find themselves in this situation should be terrified. They are only a few paychecks away from being homeless. They should hate being in this situation so much that they will do whatever it takes to escape from the financial trap that they’re in. They should be pushing themselves every day to seek out and find a better-paying job, or a second or third part-time job to supplement their income.
Yet they don’t do that. They simply accept their fate and behave as though they don’t have any control over their lives or their futures. They apparently don’t realize that they have the ability and power to create more security and predictability for themselves and their families by deciding what they want and need, and then going after it with a vengeance.
The men that I grew up with — my dad, my grandfather, and my uncles — never sat back and waited for things to happen. They had high expectations for themselves, and they met or exceeded those expectations by constantly pushing themselves to do better. One of those men was Uncle Bill Williams.
With my dad’s help, after graduating from high school in May 1975, I was able to secure a laborer’s job on a commercial construction project. The project was managed by Williams Brothers Construction, a company that was owned by my dad, Carl Williams, and his brother Tommy Williams. Their younger brother, Bill Williams, was employed by the company as a superintendent who supervised some of the company’s construction projects.
The project that I worked on during the summer of 1975 was supervised by my Uncle Bill; it involved the construction of a factory that was being built in East Peoria for Caterpillar, Inc. The project included several carpenters, ironworkers, laborers, plumbers, electricians, operating engineers, and concrete finishers.
I was one of seven laborers who worked on the project. There was one other laborer — I’ll call him “Rick” — who was my age. He was related to my Uncle Tommy’s wife. The other five laborers were older men who had worked in the construction industry for years.
It didn’t take Uncle Bill very long to start pestering me and Rick to work harder and faster. He left the other guys alone, while he insisted that Rick and I work to our maximum ability. Every day, Uncle Bill pushed us to pick up the pace and hustle more.
One day, after I had been working for a few weeks, Uncle Bill barked an order at me: “Harry, you need to ‘motate!’” He emphasized the word “motate.” I stopped what I was doing and looked at him and said, “What did you say?” He replied, “You need to motate!” I responded in a questioning tone, “I need to motate? What does that mean?” He shot back, “The word motate means that you need to move as fast as you can.”
Later in the day after I got home from work, I grabbed a dictionary off the bookshelf in the dining room of my parents’ home and looked up the word “motate.” I couldn’t find it in the dictionary. I grabbed another dictionary and looked up the word. It wasn’t in that dictionary either.
The next day when I saw my uncle, I said, “Uncle Bill, last night I looked up the word motate in two different dictionaries and I couldn’t find it. It’s not a real word. You made it up, didn’t you?” He replied, “Yes, it’s my own word. It comes from a combination of the words ‘motor’ and ‘rotate.’ Both of those words require different forms of movement. Combined, the words mean “to move as fast as you can.”
It was classic Uncle Bill. At heart, he was a prankster who liked to tease people and get them worked up. He enjoyed seeing people squirm. Because of the way I behaved around him, I think he thought that I was a little too sure of myself and decided that I needed to be knocked down a peg or two.
Uncle Bill treated Rick the same way that he treated me. He wasn’t going to let us get away with working for a company that paid us the same wage that the veteran laborers were receiving, without both of us proving to him that we deserved to be paid the same wage. I believe that he really did care about me and felt that it was his responsibility to help make a real man out of me. His way of doing that was to push and harass me until I learned the lessons that he wanted to teach me.
I began this article by telling you about the people who settle for living paycheck to paycheck, without pushing themselves every day to seek out and find a better-paying job or a second or third part-time job to supplement their incomes. The men that I grew up with weren’t that way, including Uncle Bill.
Although Uncle Bill had a good-paying job as a construction superintendent, he still managed to figure out a way to supplement his income. I’m sure he sought out the additional income so he could continue to provide a comfortable lifestyle for his wife and six children.
When I was in grade school, Uncle Bill set up a shop in his basement with all the equipment that was necessary to sharpen saw blades. He knew that construction companies contracted with various individuals who were experienced at sharpening saw blades that had been used by the workers on the job sites.
At first, he sharpened used saw blades for Williams Brothers Construction. Then he persuaded other construction companies to give him their saw blades to sharpen. I don’t know how much he got paid, but let’s say he received $1.50 for each blade. If he sharpened 500 blades in a month, he earned an additional income of $750 for that month.
When I was in grade school, I hung out at Uncle Bill’s house quite a bit. His house was only a few houses away from where I lived. It seemed as though every time I went over to his house to hang out with my cousin, Danny, Uncle Bill was alone in his basement sharpening saw blades.
The late Jim Rohn, a motivational speaker and success coach, used to say, “The miracle of the seed and the soil is only available by labor.” The meaning of Rohn’s statement was obvious. The fact that you have seeds and soil isn’t enough to produce a harvest. You have to prepare the ground and plant the seeds. Then you have to water the seeds, cultivate the ground, and keep the weeds away from the plants. When the time comes, you have to harvest what you’ve grown. It is only then that you can enjoy the fruits of your labor.
Most people want the harvest without the labor. They want the reward without the work. They want paradise without sacrifice. To me, this is a scary way to live. What’s going to happen at the end of their lives when they face God? They’re going to find out about all the opportunities that God gave them to get ahead, and how they were too lazy to take advantage of those opportunities.
You and I are capable of accomplishing much more than we accomplish on a daily basis — both physically and spiritually — and at the end of our lives, we’re going to have to explain to God why we didn’t step up and do what He expected us to do.
Now that’s a scary thought.