This I Believe

Sairam - Cerritos, California
Entered on March 5, 2007
Age Group: 30 - 50

I believe in elbow grease.

My parents immigrated to this country from India when I was two years old. My father, an engineering student at the University of Illinois, wanted to make sure his children had a better life than he did, and with only a few dollars in his pocket, brought us to the country which embodied the hope he had for our future. He would put in time at an internship after school, then spend a few hours with his family and books before heading to his graveyard shift at Jack in the Box, which put food on the table and a roof over our heads. This was followed by a quick nap before going back to class. By the time I was in high school, this intense work ethic from the old country had been drilled into me by my parents. After-school reading assignments, rote memorization of multiplication tables, daily writing in a journal; all on top of whatever homework I got from school. When my parents moved to California so I could attend a better high school, I was surprised at how easily academic challenges were overcome.

I became lazy.

Maybe I had always been lazy, and suddenly I was able to actually succeed in the way my parents expected, without actually putting forth much effort. It was great. I crammed for exams the morning before taking them; I completed homework for each class during the previous period; I slept through every math class. Only the new computer programming class my school offered could hold my attention, but even then, just barely. Within a week, I had taught myself more than my computer teacher was able to, and soon I was taking naps in class. Mr. Franz had experience with lazy freshmen though, and one day asked me to run over to the art class and ask for a can of elbow grease. I was thrilled. A hall pass, a quick trip to pick up a can of whatever, and a leisurely stroll back would take up most of the class period. In the art room, the teacher had me sift through a few boxes and sort through some paint cans in search of the elusive grease. It wasn’t there. He said he must have lent it to the wood shop teacher, where I hurried to next. Again, some time rooting through cans of paint thinner and wood glue turned up no elbow grease. What the heck was this stuff, and why was it so hard to find? Auto shop turned up zilch as well, and by the end of the period, I was sweaty and empty-handed.

Mr. Franz started giving me extra assignments in class and soon I found the challenges of computer programming far more difficult than they appeared. He was the best teacher I had in high school, and if it weren’t for him, my college years wouldn’t have been the same. I learned that I had to push myself harder, if I wasn’t being challenged enough. Today I’m part owner of a very small company, and like any entrepreneur, I know that there is no substitute for hard work. Some day, if I have children, and the need arises, I’ll be sure and have a can of elbow grease hidden in the garage for them to find.