A kid can learn a lot carrying someone's bag.

A kid can learn a lot carrying someone’s bag.

I’m still chewing on the shot heard around the world fired by Ashton Kutcher at the Teen Choice Awards last week.

Kutcher’s remarks almost instantly went viral. He made headlines across the globe – not for his new movie, but for his candor and surprise spin. His back to basics message won endorsements from both sides of the political aisle and all walks of life.

But where does it leave us? Urging folks to “listen” isn’t enough.

“I believe that opportunity looks a lot like work,” Kutcher said. Then he shared his resume: at 13, he carried shingles to the roof for his father, then he washed dishes in a restaurant, worked in a grocery store deli and swept Cheerio dust off the floor in a factory.

Don’t just listen. Give kids jobs. Real jobs.

When I heard Kutcher’s comment about opportunity looking “a lot like work”, I almost fell out of my chair. I wanted to scream, “YES! … Preach it Brother!” Then I considered for a moment all of the places he worked. Very few of them are willing to offer a kid a job these days. Our local grocery store won’t hire a kid to even bag groceries until they’re seventeen. Forget about the deli. “Dangerous” equipment and insurance regulations prohibit a teenager from gainful employment in those areas. And factory? Eighteen.

A kid can use a broom. A kid can sack groceries. And should. They can learn a lot about life outside of themselves by doing basic menial tasks that are not, despite grand illusions, below them. A teenager needs to learn that sacking a gallon of milk on top of the package of grapes doesn’t work too well. Nothing like a filter-free elderly woman to set you straight. And that’s a good thing.

Plus, crazy thing about menial tasks, like all work, it makes you feel good about yourself.

See Also: Thirteen-year-old daughter who, thanks to an amazing office manger willing to give a kid a job, has found a new source of confidence. The teen spent her summer doing things that no one likes to do: file, copy, file, get the mail, file, clean and organize an office, file and then file some more. By the way, she was twelve when she started her job this summer.

“She’s the best worker we’ve had,” the manger told me. Why? Because she’s some office prodigy? No. Probably because she’s a kid. She doesn’t know that filing is everyone’s worst nightmare. Just like Ashton probably didn’t know that sweeping Cheerio dust off a factory floor in front of other people is about as “low” as it goes.

“I never had a job in my life that I was better than. I was always just lucky to have a job. Every job I had was a stepping stone to my next job…”

So, if you’re a business owner/manager, if you’ve ever uttered – or even thought – the words, “Kids these days, they just don’t know how to work,” give them a job and teach them. For everyone’s sake. It doesn’t matter the place of employment, there are things a kid can do.

Model thoughtfulness and generosity

“The sexiest thing in the entire world is being really smart. And being thoughtful and being generous. Everything else is c**p. I promise you. It’s just c**p that people try to sell to you to make you feel like less. So don’t buy it. Be smart. Be thoughtful and be generous.”

He’s right. We could all quit making it about stuff and land on what really matters. People. A kid looks at everyone around him, compares, then tries to be. Things might look a bit different if the parents, the teachers and coaches heralded (or at least included) thoughtfulness and generosity over winning, having the best resume, being on the best team, and getting ahead. How do we avoid the buzzword describing society these days, “narcissism”? Focus on someone besides ourselves. A little something that accompanies generosity and thoughtfulness. And that’s smart.

Encourage, encourage, encourage

Drown out the loud messages of self-doubt. Teens wear them on the surface. Adults learn to mask them. The truth is, we could all use a big dose of self-worth. Not self-aggrandizement that comes with being better than someone else, but genuine worth. Because everyone is gifted to do something in life.

“But life can be a lot broader than that when you realize one simple thing: everything around us that we call life was made up of people that are no smarter than you.”

We can do more than listen. We can do more than opine. We can put meat on the bones of opportunity by providing the venue. We can model the traits that give life. And we can encourage.

The sky’s the limit after that. Just ask Chris Kutcher.

(quotes are from Kutcher’s Teen Choice Award acceptance speech on August 11, 2013)

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