The ‘9-9-6’ Life and Labor Day

Friday, August 30, 2019

My friends thought I was crazy because I actually looked forward to the end of summer vacation and the start of the school year.

But school mornings were always much better than summer ones. Every summer morning would start with me pleading with my father. “Come on, Dad! It’s six in the bleeping morning!” Though, I didn’t say “bleeping.” Or anything in its place, for that matter.

You see, summer is no vacation if you live on a farm as I did growing up. Each day is filled with long, hard work.

School, on the other hand, was a cakewalk. Hanging out with my friends —none of whom lived within biking distance — was infinitely more enjoyable than breaking my back under the hot sun on the family farm in western Washington.

And just like summer itself, Labor Day was no vacation day on the farm, either. Pretty much every day on the farm became a 12-hour workday at my father’s insistence.

Grover Cleveland made Labor Day a federal holiday in 1894 as a tribute to American workers who routinely worked 12-hour days and seven-day weeks. My father spent the bulk of his waking hours working, until his health failed him.

My father truly considered hard work and long hours to be a godly virtue, one his sons should invest the same time into as he did.

This was especially frustrating in high school because my friends were joyriding around town, swimming, and otherwise having tons of fun ... while I was always working in the hot sun.

And the greatest cheer of all was when I left our small vegetable farm to attend the University of Washington because my father couldn’t wake me up at the crack of dawn on weekend mornings.

But even after college graduation, my father instructed me, “You MUST be the first to arrive and the last to leave work EVERY day.”

My father, who lived to 93 years of age, believed a man was defined by how hard he worked. And my father worked — I’m as serious as a heart attack — 100 hours a week until his early 80s.

100 hours a week? That’s 14 hours a day, seven days a week. While that may seem unbelievable, it’s pretty typical for farmers.

My father did reduce his work week to 60 hours a week in December, January and February. That was as close to a vacation as he got.

Outside of farming, this kind of maniacal work schedule has largely disappeared in the United States. But that work ethic is a normal way of life for most people living in Japan, Korea and China.

The Chinese, for example, even have a name for it: “9-9-6.”

996? It means 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., six days a week. Yup; 12 hours a day, six days a week.

Alibaba founder Jack Ma has repeatedly said, “There are way easier places to work, but nobody ever changed the world on 40 hours a week.”

I hated life on the farm when I was young. But I have to admit, those back-breaking summers on the farm are the reason for my successful career.

A work ethic is something you learn, not something you’re born with. And I fear most young Americans are not being taught what it means to put in a hard day’s work.

My father would shrug his shoulders, but I’m going to enjoy my Labor Day weekend. I hope you do, too. My guess is that, if you are reading this letter, you've worked hard to earn this well-deserved holiday. Stay safe and enjoy every moment.

Best wishes,

Tony Sagami

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