- - Wednesday, May 11, 2016

“If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as Michelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music, or Shakespeare wrote poetry. No work is insignificant. All labor that uplifts humanity has dignity and importance and should be undertaken with painstaking excellence,” said the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

The U.S. economy is failing to thrive, and our confidence — you could call it our faith — is flagging too. In the first quarter of the year, the economy grew at an annual rate of 0.7 percent. That is anemic for the world’s economic engine, which runs on innovation, especially from small businesses.

It is evident since the 2007-2009 recession that neither government intervention nor central bank manipulations stimulate our economy. Instead, we need aspirational workers to generate true growth, organic growth.

A key to developing talent in people is aspiration. Someone — either the individual or a teacher, coach or mentor — has aspired and believed that accomplishment could far exceed current capabilities. I know that was true for me.

On May 25, 1994, I started my first post-college job: backup quarterback for the short-lived Sacramento Gold Miners of the Canadian Football League. Do you remember your first real job? How much belief did you have that you would do your job well and build a lasting, meaningful career? From age 6 on, I believed I would play professional football. After all, I was working in the family business. My dad played 13 seasons in the NFL, CFL and AFL, and my brother played 11 seasons in the NFL. Whatever natural talent I possessed was thoroughly developed by my dad and brother. Each spent hours and hours working with me when I was young.

Regardless of my lifetime of preparation, I was nervous on the first day of my job. The veterans were on the field and knew the plays, which sounded like Chinese to me. Since this was an unofficial workout, no coaches were present for guidance. I made plenty of dumb mistakes, but I knew that was part of the process and I believed I was in my right place. Nonetheless, there were moments of doubt during training camp when my prospects of making the team were dim. One time, a reporter brought those doubts into focus. While competing from the fourth quarterback slot on a team nobody had heard of, and in the shadow of my father and brother’s accomplished careers, the reporter asked why I was playing football in this situation. My response was that I believed I was in my right place and while I didn’t know if I would make the team, I knew I had to try. That response opened a conversation that has yet to end: The reporter and I married three years later.

My faith in God’s plan for my life enabled me to work hard despite the odds for success. I made the practice squad and during the season eventually became the backup when our starting quarterback was injured.

The guys called me “Rudy” after the movie character who had little talent but was a relentless worker. I took it as an insult since I thought I had some talent.

The next season, having proved my willingness to work hard, the coach let the veteran backup go and gave me the chance to earn the job, which I did. My faith was rewarded and reinforced. I went on to play eight seasons in the CFL. That uncertain spring of 1994 may not have been ideal, but it served as the first step of my career, leading most importantly to the woman I love — the reporter who asked me why.

Hopefully, you have experienced the importance of faith being a force that inspires your work, be it competing on the fields of friendly strife, street sweeping, teaching or building a business. Motivation matters, and regardless of religious faith, people must be inspired to perspire for a purpose beyond their occupation, or else work becomes a dead end. There is meaning in our labor, and we must pursue that meaning while working our jobs, which when performed with aspiration produce dynamic results — innovative solutions to our common human challenges that ultimately grow our economic pie. So, in no small part, I believe that faith is a key to economic vitality — and in order to remain the world’s economic leader, our society must nurture faith. James writes that faith without works is dead. I also believe that work without faith is dead.

Jimmy Kemp is president of the Jack Kemp Foundation and executive vice president of federal systems for Group 47.

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