Super Nova

My paternal grandfather had almost no formal education; he immigrated to Canada as a young man and made his living as a migrant farm labourer.  His work ethic was legendary.  My father grew up poor but had the benefit of a high school diploma and a burning desire to succeed.   He worked his way up from the factory floor to the office and by the time I graduated from high school he was employed as an executive for a petrochemical company.  No one ever questioned his work ethic.  I was the first member of my family with access to unlimited educational opportunities, thus it was imperative that I get, at the very least, a university degree.  My father wanted me to get a degree in engineering but a D in grade 11 physics (my worst mark in high school) convinced me that applied sciences were not my forte, I studied business mostly by default.  After flunking out of that my first year there were real questions raised about my work ethic.

I earned the bulk of my degree the next two years and I did it by majoring in pragmatism.  I researched all my potential professors and cherry picked the ones known to give better grades.  I selected classes I knew I would attend, if the class was full I attended it anyway, often registering for the morning program and just going in the afternoon.  I never bought another textbook, instead I borrowed them from the school library, the public library, friends, or just chose courses that didn’t need them.  I tried to pick courses with similar subject matter where I could rely on previous experience or ideally previously graded materials.  I handed in reworked versions of my Children and Television essay four times.   When essay topics were released I would hoard the reference materials from the library and use them as barter to get access to books that needed to be purchased.  I never handed in anything late.  When it looked like I was going to miss a deadline I would take what I had and paste unrelated material onto the end of it.  I would then print this out using the faint draft mode on the printer, which could be swapped out later for a more legible copy, and no one was the wiser.   I didn’t plan on doing things this way.  I simply had a knack for finding alternative ways to get things done and since I was focused on results, I stuck to what was working.

During the break, thanks entirely to my father’s clout at the petrochemical plant, I got a highly coveted summer student job.  As luck would have it I was assigned to the millwrights and pipe fitters, large powerful men who toiled with big tools and heavy pieces of equipment.  They had little use for a 120lb weakling.  They had hoped that I could drive the work truck back and forth from the site to the warehouse to get supplies but alas I didn’t have a drivers license.  My father attempted to remedy that situation as well but the only result was a partial loss of hearing in my right ear.

At one point that summer I ran into Gary Murray, my old lab partner from grade 12 Chemistry.  Our science project that year was one of the few bright spots of my academic career, due in a large part to my father supplying me with all the materials.  The last time I saw Gary he was told me he was going to forgo his last year of high school and go to a community college instead of university.  This was a big deal as Gary had been in the advanced five year OAC program and there was a real stigma against the four year, 27 credit high school diploma, intended as it was for remedial students.    After completing a two year college program he got a good paying job in the petrochemical industry and was able to purchase both a house and buy a new car.  Gary wasn’t one of these academically gifted science nerds and judging by what he contributed to our mutual science project I don’t recall him being a remarkably hard worker.  If anything we had very similar student profiles and yet in four years we had experienced vastly different levels of success.

Between my job at the refinery and the other one my father procured for me, working as a weekend roadie for a community festival, I made more money that summer than at any other point in my life.   Neither job remotely resembled hard work, instead they reflected the influence that my father had built up over a career.  Much of my schoolmate Gary’s recent success was due to having tangible skills.  This isn’t to say he didn’t work hard but his first move was dropping down into a less demanding program.  When I eventually went to college I became an ‘A’ student for the first time in my life.  The intimate classrooms and focused curriculum created a much different learning atmosphere than the one I had experienced in university.  There is a romanticism attached to the idea of hard work.  You see this a lot in sports where a less athletic player is greatly acclaimed for a perceived scrappiness and hustle.  However the grim reality is that vast majority of professional athletes don’t make it and for most of them it was due to a lack of talent not effort.  The truth is that hard work all by itself, as my paternal grandfather could attest, doesn’t amount to a whole lot.


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