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Posted: October 23, 2012

Being the best possible panhandler

That's the key to one bum's success

David Sneed

I don’t usually donate to panhandlers. Who wants to give money to a bum with no work ethic? He’ll probably just spend it on booze and mismatched socks.

But there is an old guy, tall, with alcoholic eyes that I’ve seen milling about Colfax and Monaco waiting for a handout. And I saw him again at Speer and Broadway. Both times, I had already passed before I noticed - and I U-turned to pass him again.

He had (stolen from a restaurant I suspect) one of those industrial, almost-clear trash bags, and every cigarette butt and piece of trash within 100 feet had been picked up. At the Monaco corner I watched him collecting litter while his lanes had a green light.

He didn’t make a big production out of it, and if you weren’t paying attention you’d never notice. But he’s actually employed at that intersection. How is that for work ethic?

Both times I gave him money and a genuine smile. This guy, no matter what he was going to buy with it, deserves a couple of dollars. He may be a bum, but he’s a bum who understands life. He’s doing the right thing without being told - that’s my definition of initiative. It’s also the key to being useful.  I bet he’d be good at a lot of things if he could just stay off the sauce.

I’d like to load up a bus with some young people (and their massive senses of entitlement) to show this man to them. Every employer wants people who will make things better.  If you improve a situation just by being there - I like you.  And every employer would like you. Even if you aren’t particularly good at your job, I’d take the time to help you learn. You already have the one skill that I can’t teach.

For whatever reason, we’ve stopped telling our kids about the intangibles of being good at things. We get so caught up in making sure they go to a good college that we forget to tell them that there’s more to success than just an education.

I’ve had people accuse me of wanting slaves to work harder without extra pay. That isn’t true. I want you to succeed so that I can promote you. And even if you don’t advance with me you’ll advance somewhere else.  I take my role as manager seriously, and I’ll be proud of myself, and of you, if you leave here more successful than you came.

I’m happy I saw the old guy with the trash bag. If you happen to see him, slow down and wonder. His type of work ethic built the country we live in today. And remember that, even though he isn’t succeeding by American financial standards, he’s being the best bum he can possibly be - and that’s the secret to real success.

David Sneed is the owner of Alpine Fence Company,and the author of" Everyone Has A Boss– The Two Hour Guide to Being the Most Valuable Employee at Any Company." As a Marine, father, employee and boss, David has learned how to help others succeed. He teaches the benefits of a strong work ethic to entry and mid-level employees. Contact him at  David@EveryoneHasABoss.com

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Readers Respond

"If you've got time to lean, you've got time to clean" - my high school culinary arts teacher By Laura Newman on 2012 10 23
Well stated! Initiative is all too rare in our world and should be rewarded. By John Horan on 2012 10 23
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