A Short Thought on Labor Day

Many of us are spending today enjoying the latter days of summer. I sure am. I’ve spent the last few days with my cousin and her family, visiting the Art Institute of Chicago and just simply enjoying each other’s company.

Take a moment, though, to remember why it is that we’re taking this day off. Labor Day is a celebration of the contribution of America’s workers to the economy.

The successful economy of the United States was built on people working hard, taking the initiative, and going beyond what was minimally needed for their paycheck. The rewards of this are obvious: the world’s largest economy, the amazing level of economic growth the nation has seen over the last 150 years, and the countless stories of personal success that have tied into this growth.

Those stories of personal success – people starting their own businesses, people getting ahead in their workplace, people saving their money and becoming wealthy – are part of the American story. At the same time, though, they’re examples of people putting aside their immediate desires – such as being lazy at work or spending money frivolously – and working hard for the long term future.

That’s the success that the United States was built on.

It’s also a big part of why we celebrate Labor Day. Hard work.

Enjoy the time off today.

When you return to work tomorrow, though, remember that it was hard work and frugality that built the success of this country. It’s the very thing that Labor Day was celebrating.

Then ask yourself if you can live up to that standard and, as a result, find that kind of success for yourself. Whether it’s in your work, in your entrepreneurship, or in your frugality, you can find success only through one way.

Hard work.

No one ever said that success was easy.

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  1. krantcents says:

    Good teaching is difficult, but don’t confuse it with hard work. Hard work to me is roofing in 110 degree weather, digging ditches, or just plain physical work. Teaching requires a lot of skills and talents, but I love it so it is not hard for me. Tomorrow, I start a new semester doing what I love to do.

  2. chuck says:

    debt and home equity loans fueled the economy up until 2008. getting back to hard work and frugality is important.

  3. tricia says:

    I had to work today……

  4. Kiki says:

    You know other countries celebrate this day too, and that also work hard, right?

  5. Brittany says:

    Actually, Labor Day became a federal holiday after the Pullman labor strikes, where the US military killed unarmed striking workers. Labor Day was the “Oops, our bad.” concession.

    Elites not giving a crap about lower-class workers, throwing them a tiny bone for appearance’s sake in order to solidify their power, and then expecting the workers to be unbelievably grateful: That’s the success that the United States was built on.

  6. kristine says:

    It is to me, a day to celebrate those who work hard all year, unsung, and who despite their efforts and back-breaking work, may, or may not, get ahead. Like the landscapers who worked double shifts last week, sans extra pay, to have this day off. I personally think that on Labor day, it is enough to laud the work, and not tie expectations to it, or include a call action, or challenge. Just let the people be honored, and given a day to rest, judgement free.

  7. Johanna says:

    This isn’t quite as weird as your reinterpretation of Memorial Day to be about your deceased relatives, but it’s still pretty weird.

    Labor Day is a holiday in honor of working *people*, not work itself. The distinction is important, because people are more than the work that they do. It is a celebration of the idea that working people deserve to be rewarded fairly for their work. It is not a statement that hard work is its own reward, or that it inevitably leads to success. And I’m pretty sure it has almost nothing to do with “taking the initiative, and going beyond what was minimally needed for their paycheck” – unless the initiative you’re talking about is the initiative to form unions.

    I got a wry smile out of Brittany’s interpretation of the history. But Labor Day celebrations predate the federal holiday, so I think it’s OK to celebrate it uncynically.

  8. kristine says:

    “It is a celebration of the idea that working people deserve to be rewarded fairly for their work.”

    Perfect. If I had a blog and were to write about anything today, I would write about the history of unions. Triangle Shirt Factory, through now, and the implementation of weekends, the 40-hour work week, being allowed to stay home if sick, and so on. And save the controversy of their continued usefullness for another day. (Guess which side I fall on?)

    So many people bust their buns everyday, some at 2 or 3 physically demanding and low-prestige jobs, who collapse when done, and I am pretty sure they might be sick of hearing of how if they worked even harder, they’d get ahead. I’d walk a hundred miles in the shoes before I called anyone stuck at a certain tier “lazy”.

    I get it- work ethic. I was raised very spartan Protestant/puritan- I get it. But way to totally miss the point of the day.

  9. Elaine says:

    If all you want to do is attack the author why read the blog. There is nothing wrong with the thoughts he expressed and in no way does he miss the point of the holiday. If you honor workers for their social and economic achievements you ARE honoring them for how hard they work. And this country WAS built on hard work, frugality and personal initiative. He isn’t saying that people stuck in a lower tier are lazy-just pointing out that some people do the minimum and get mad that they aren’t getting ahead. Just like some people waste money, frequently without giving it a second thought because it’s not a lot of money. This is a column about frugal living so I don’t think it’s unexpected that he should tie the holiday to those virtues.

  10. Jonathan says:

    Well said Elaine.

  11. Jonathan says:

    Well said Elaine.

  12. Katie says:

    The distinction between celebrating people for hard work and celebrating hard work itself matters because the first is about recognizing workers who have historically (and are presently) been exploited, and the latter is part of the narrative that has often been used to exploit them. It’s getting it backwards.

  13. Johanna says:

    Elaine (and Jonathan), disagreement is not an attack. Are you saying that people should only read blogs where they already agree with everything?

    And as usual, what Katie said.

  14. kristine says:

    Ditto Katie redux.

  15. kristine says:

    I just felt really bad for anyone who really struggles, works like crazy, and comes to this blog to try and figure out how to raise a family on minimum wage, only to be told that today is the day to “ask yourself if you can live up to that standard”. Instead of being thanked.

    That is what I found so striking by its absence. The THANK-YOU.
    The praising of ideology instead of human beings.

    SO. Today I’d like to thank the hard workers I often take for granted, and reaffirm a resolve to try and make sure we treat all our fellow workers fairly, and with respect, all year round. Heck, I’d love it if we went global with that!

  16. Tracy says:

    Ditto both Katie and Kristine.

  17. Ryan says:

    Katie said it better than I ever could. This post was a bit heavy on the “if people just worked harder, they’d be better off” that I constantly hear on Fox News.

  18. Johanna says:

    Why are you watching Fox News? :)

  19. Kevin says:

    @Johanna: “Are you saying that people should only read blogs where they already agree with everything?”

    Uhm… kinda, yeah, actually. Why would you waste your time reading a bunch of blogs you totally disagreed with?

    I’m pro-choice, so why would I spend my day reading a bunch of Pro-Life drivel that’s just going to make me mad?

    Honestly Johanna, I’ve recently wondered this about YOU, too. You only ever have negative things to say about any of Trent’s columns, so why do you keep coming back here? I don’t think I’ve ever seen you just agree with anything Trent has written. You ALWAYS either flatly disagree with him, or engage in a bunch of trivial nitpicking just to show how much smarter you are than Trent.

    Honestly, why do you do it? Why do you bother? Does it make you feel good about yourself to think that you’re so important that the Internet desperately needs you to “correct” someone who actually has their own blog (rather than go to the effort of actually authoring your OWN daily blog)? Sorry to burst your bubble, but, you’re not that important. We don’t need you. And truthfully, your CONSTANT negativity is starting to make me just skip over your posts.

    Simply put (har har), your incessant niggling is getting old.

  20. David says:

    This was not written to commemorate Labor Day. But it might have been.

    K for the Klondyke, a Country of Gold,
    Where the winters are often excessively cold,
    Where the lawn every morning is covered with rime,
    And skating continues for years at a time.
    Do you think that a Climate can conquer the grit
    Of the Sons of the West? Not a bit! Not a bit!

    When the weather looks nippy, the bold Pioneers
    Put on two pairs of Stockings and cover their ears,
    And roam through the drear Hyperborean dales
    With a vast apparatus of Buckets and Pails;
    Or wander through wild Hyperborean glades
    With Hoes, Hammers, Pickaxes, Mattocks and Spades.

    There are some who give rise to exuberant mirth
    By turning up nothing but bushels of earth,
    While those who have little cause excellent fun
    By attempting to pilfer from those who have none.
    At times the reward they will get for their pains
    Is to strike very tempting auriferous veins;
    Or, a shaft being sunk for some miles in the ground,
    Not infrequently nuggets of value are found.
    They bring us the gold when their labours are ended,
    And we — after thanking them prettily — spend it.


    Just you work for Humanity. Never you mind
    If Humanity seems to have left you behind.

    Hilaire Belloc

  21. Johanna says:

    @Kevin: One of these days I’m going to stop dignifying that question with a response, but for you, Kevin:

    I continue to comment here because many other commenters have said that they value my point of view. And I value theirs, and I enjoy and learn from many of the discussions we all have.

    And you know, it’s a bit rich to see *you* criticizing *me* for negativity. Almost all of your comments are negative toward somebody or other. Not that I think that’s necessarily a bad thing, but your comments are also far more likely than mine to be (1) unnecessarily abrasive, and (2) wrong. So there’s that.

  22. Kevin says:

    I’m just saying, you seem really unhappy. It seems the only joy you get is in tearing down Trent.

    Trent may be a lot of things, but I have never doubted his heart. For all the mistakes he may make on this site, I’ve never questioned his sincerity or integrity. That’s why it bothers me to see you consistently “correcting” him. It doesn’t appear as though you ever learn anything from this site, and it certainly doesn’t seem to be a bright spot in your day (unless you take some kind of sick pleasure in tearing down someone who is trying to build something), so I just don’t get why you keep coming back, unless you just like anonymously attacking people.

    If that’s the case, then I really feel sorry for you, but not enough to continue to sit quietly by and bite my tongue while you spew bile day-in and day-out.

  23. Golfing Girl says:

    Umm, back to the actual topic…

    Yesterday my daughter asked me if we were rich. I explained that the answer would depend on who you asked. (Ask a homeless person and they’d say YES and ask a millionaire and they’d say NO). So she said she wished everyone could be rich. I explained that this could never happen, because there will always be people who don’t want to work hard or save so they will never be rich.

  24. Another Katie says:

    Kevin, I agree that Trent is sincere, however, even you acknowledged that he makes mistakes in his blog. Since Trent often gives inaccurate or incomplete information, I am grateful for the people who correct information.

    If someone comes here, gets wrong information and then acts on it, then at the very best they have wasted time with a solution that does not work. At the worst, they may have made whatever situation they are dealing with worse than it was to start with.

    I particularly enjoy Johanna’s comments. She does often offer a contrary view point to Trent, but I think in a constructive and interesting way. Some people, my self included, find it useful and enjoyable to read differing view points as it can help me think about an issue from different perspectives and help me come to a clearer idea of what I think about the issue.

    Also, I have never found Johanna’s comments to be negatively directed at Trent with personal attacks. I can’t say you do the same in avoiding personal attacks.

  25. Tracy says:


    Um, I really think you should review yourself there before accusing Johanna of spewing bile – that comment was INCREDIBLY nasty. Not to mention exceedingly concern-trolly.

  26. Johanna says:

    Maybe Kevin really is worried about my happiness and wants to make me laugh. If so, he succeeded.

  27. eva says:

    Actually, I had to work on Labor Day. I have never gotten it off. Did you go shopping yesterday? Eat out? Those people had to work too. I don’t think it’s a real holiday.

  28. jim says:


    Maybe you shouldn’t read Johanna’s comments if you disagree with her so much. Why are you reading her comments in the first place if you hate everything she says and you think she’s just an angry, bitter old maid who’s negative about everything, can only derive happiness by bashing bloggers on the internet and spews bile 24/7? I mean why would anyone waste time reading someone like that?? I have to wonder about someone like you who would read such awful comments day in and day out that you disagree with so vehemently and then just complain about it.

    Its clear you need to stop reading Johannas comments.

  29. denise says:

    I always read this and I definitely enjoy the comments, especially Johanna’s because they seem well thoughtout. The comments add alot to this site.

  30. Cortney says:

    To be clear, I’m not saying “all ardent anti-union conservatives know nothing about Labor Day”. I’m just saying it’s frustrating to see people who are anti-union and claim patriotism as their defining feature have such warped and inaccurate understandings of the holiday.

  31. Jonathan says:

    Johanna, I just realized that you comment in #13 was addressed to me as well as Elaine.

    Very often the discussions in the comments add as much, or at times even more, value than the post itself. I enjoy hearing different viewpoints. I think that this is the real benefit in Trent having comments enabled.

    I often find myself in the position of defending Trent, and am honestly surprised that no one has called me out on it yet. The thing is, I don’t always agree with him. He makes mistakes and at times gives advice that I would never follow. I keep reading, however, because I do agree with a lot of what he says and I find that I can almost always find something valuable in his posts, even if I disagree with the primary point he is making.

    The reason I tend to defend him so often is because I find negativity not only unhelpful but actually harmful. Often there is so much negativity in the comments that it is difficult to actually get to the useful information without being effected by the negativity. Since I am aware of the benefits of positive-thinking and harm of negativity I believe I am better equipped to deal with this situation than others might be. I worry that many people may miss the beneficial discussions happening in the comments because they are tainted with the negativity common here.

    On a personal note I find that I agree with your viewpoint roughly as often as a disagree with it. I think that is a good balance and am glad that there are active members such as yourself who do present alternative views. I saw a comment you made to another post recently that gives me some possible insight into why you seem to call Trent out so often on things you disagree with. Obviously I may have misinterpreted the comment, in which case I apologize. The comment was “What I really like about this post is that Trent’s sharing what works for *him*, with nary a generalization that what works for him must therefore be the best strategy for everyone.”. After reading this I realized that one of our differences is that I read this blog as being Trent’s thoughts and opinions regarding the topics he writes about, based on his own life experiences. When I disagree with something he writes I do not get the feeling that he is telling me I should do things his way or that his way is the only valid approach. I do not need for him to explicitly state in each post that he is just stating what works for him. Based on the years of following Trent’s work I believe this to be an assumption that readers can safely make without Trent having to add a disclaimer every time.

  32. Johanna says:

    @Jonathan: Thanks for this comment. I don’t always agree with you, but your comments are always polite and thoughtful, and I really respect that.

    I’m not sure why you expected to be called out for defending Trent. Maybe you think that those of us who often criticize him are just criticizing him for the sake of criticizing him? Because that’s not the case (at least not with me). I do defend him sometimes too, when I think he has a good point and the criticism he’s getting is unreasonable.

    Like with the comment you quoted, for example. The first couple of commenters on that post seemed to suggest that they thought Trent was telling them what to do, but if you actually look at the post, it’s all “I” statements. Which is totally appropriate in this case.

    Not all his posts are like that, though. In many of them (I’ll give you examples if you want, but they should be easy enough to find) he flat-out says “I did XYZ and it worked, so everyone else should do XYZ too.” Or just “Do XYZ.” Even when it’s easy enough to imagine a situation where XYZ won’t work. So no, I don’t need an official disclaimer in every post that he’s just saying what works for him. But when he does explicitly say that what works for him should work for everybody, you’ve got to expect that people will chime in and say “Well no, actually, that won’t work for me.”

    I have to say, sometimes I don’t understand the “war on negativity” that’s going on here. Not because I doubt the merit of positive thinking, but because so many of the “anti-negativity” posts are just as negative as the negativity they’re supposedly against, if not more so. Like the “How dare you criticize Trent!” comments in cases where Trent is demonstrably wrong and the criticism is demonstrably correct. Like this post here. It’s just not true that Labor Day is about celebrating hard work, or how anyone can get ahead if only they work hard enough. Not that it’s necessarily bad to believe that anyone can get ahead if only they work hard enough (I personally think it is, but that’s another discussion), but that’s not what Labor Day is about. And the distinction is important enough, as previous commenters have explained, that it makes perfect sense to correct the inaccuracy.

    Simply put (see, I can do it too!), however bad negativity may be, I think misinformation is even worse.

  33. Jonathan says:

    “Simply put (see, I can do it too!), however bad negativity may be, I think misinformation is even worse.”

    I agree with this. I think where I view it different, however, is in how the correction is delivered. I didn’t see any of the corrections delivered here with real negativity, but it happens often enough.

    With this specific post, however, I was reading it more as Trent’s philosophy on the holiday rather than the original intent or history behind the holiday. I understand the desire to want to provide the actual history, but I don’t see any issues with Trent’s description of what the holiday means to him.

  34. Esme says:

    Trent titled this post ‘Some Thoughts on Labor Day’, not ‘What is Labour Day?’. It’s a contemplation on hard work and success and what ‘labor’ makes him think of. In no way does he need to get into the politics and history of unions etc., especially since it’s something that’s discussed ad nauseam at this time every year.

  35. Brittany says:

    Esme and Johnathan, let’s say I* posted a blog post called “Some Thoughts on Easter,” and then talked about the Jews killed a dude so now you can do whatever you want in your life with no regard to the moral or ethical standards laid out by Christianity, completely guilt-free, and still get into Christian heaven, as long as you believed this story happened.

    Would you have an issue with this?

    Are they my thoughts? Yes. Do they have some grain of truth in them? Yes. Do they /completely miss the point/ of the Christian-view of the holiday? Definitely.

    This is our problem with the Labor Day post. We recognize they are his thoughts about the holiday. However, they also /completely miss the point/ of the holiday in it’s historical and social context, to the point of being offensive.

    *Under the guise of being religious on the blog, although I am personally no longer so.

  36. Jonathan says:

    Brittany, I would not have an issue with the example you describe. Would I agree with your stance? No. I would, however, trust that your description is an accurate reflection of your views on the holiday.

    Unfortunately very few holidays in the US hold the same meaning today that they originally held. What is the meaning of Christmas? Is it a time to spend with family and exchange gifts to show our appreciation for each other? Does it have a strictly religious meaning, meant to celebrate the birth of Christ? Is it simply a Christianized version of the Roman Pagan holiday of Saturnalia? Different people will have a different perspective on the meaning of the holiday. Personally I think that is ok. It is not my place to dictate what Christmas should mean to someone else.

  37. Brittany says:

    That’s fair, I guess. However, I think there’s a “range” of holiday meaning. Any of the three “meanings of Christmas” fall within the historical and social context of the holiday. But if you said ‘It’s this chance for you to exploit your friends and get lots of free stuff while giving them cheap crap.” I would take issue with that.

    Your perspective– fine. “My thoughts on Christmas”–fine. But “why it is that we’re taking this day off” or “a big part of why we celebrate”?–no.

    You’re entitled to your perspective and I have no right to dictate it. However, it can be so wildly out of touch that I feel the need to comment on it and have a conversation about why I feel your views are inappropriate in the historical and social context of the holiday.

  38. jim says:

    My initial impression of the article was that Trents interpretation of Labor Day was a bit off. I mean honestly what does frugality have to do with Labor Day? And such things like starting a business or putting aside your immediate desires aren’t really what I think of when I think of Labor day.
    But rereading it I kinda think that the criticism of this article is probably a little too nitpicky to be honest.

    I don’t think Trent is actually saying that work is important but workers aren’t. I don’t think Trent thinks that Labor day isn’t about the people.

    He does talk about the work but the work is an important part of it. I mean why would we honor workers if they didn’t work? It wouldn’t be labor if there wasn’t work involved. Also think about it this way, would you honor a worker who was lazy and never did anything?

    Lets look at this :
    ““taking the initiative, and going beyond what was minimally needed for their paycheck”

    What did Trent mean by that? When I read that it honestly gives me the impression that Trent is talking like some CEO who treats his workers as ‘assets’ or something. Its management speak’ish sounding. But he didn’t really say much of anything explicit there.

    He didn’t really actually say anything in that statement that really gives me a solid reason to react negatively. But things like “take the initiative” sound more like something your boss might preach at you than actual things that hard working people talk about. So it just gives me a bad taste. Even though Trent didn’t say anything specifically bad here.

    I mean picutre a few iron workers having their lunch sitting on a steel girder.

    Tom : Hey lets tkae the initiative and get the rest of the 8th floor done today.
    Ray : Right I mean if we only get it half done then thats only what is minimally needed to get our paycheck this week.

    No. I don’t think so.

    But you can definitely imagine some mid level manager using that kind of exact terminology along with the words paradigm and something about being out of the box, etc. And Labor Day certainly isn’t about the kind of things that middle management might preach to us.

    I don’t know why Trent used that language.
    Maybe Trent just got through reading a pile of management business books or something and had all that management speak on his brain. *shrug*

    I think Trents language could lead people to have a negative reaction. I don’t think Trent really thinks the kind of things that some of us might read into what he wrote here.

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