Ashton Kutcher and Me

What an actor taught me about hard work and entitlement

Published in the January 2014 Issue Published online: Jan 17, 2014
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“I believe that opportunity looks a lot like hard work … I was always just lucky to have a job, and every job I had was a stepping stone to my next job. And I never quit my job until I had my next job. And so opportunities look a lot like work.”

Sounds like a lecture you’d give your teenager when he wants cash to go to the movies with his buddies but doesn’t want to move pipe, right?

Well, that little gem came from (of all people) actor Ashton Kutcher during his acceptance speech for the Ultimate Choice award at (of all places) the Teen Choice Awards back in August. Videos of Kutcher’s righteous-anger-fueled mini-tirade have gone viral on YouTube and social media sites, and every time you turn around he’s doing another interview about it.

Your initial reaction might have been a lot like mine: Who cares? So a celebrity said something on some awards show. That’s nice. Let’s move on.

But as I watched the four-minute clip, I actually appreciated what Kutcher was saying, and who he was trying to say it to. “When I was 13, I had my first job with my dad carrying shingles up to the roof,” Kutcher told America’s youth. “And then I got a job washing dishes at a restaurant, and then I got a job in a grocery store deli, and then I got a job in a factory sweeping Cheerio dust off the ground. And I’ve never had a job in my life that I was better than.”

Maybe it was just nostalgia that made me appreciate Kutcher’s speech. Like most of our readers, I spent my youth moving handlines and digging ditches and building fence and picking rock. I worked my way through college building grain bins, framing houses and cleaning carpets. Maybe it was just refreshing to hear that a celebrity had worked hard in his life, too.

Or maybe not. Maybe what Kutcher said actually made me think about what I expect from the world. On Nov. 6 Kutcher appeared on The Ellen DeGeneres Show and, when asked about the Teen Choice speech, he said, “I think there’s an entitlement that is starting to emerge that I think is unhealthy for people and unhealthy for our country.”

Now, I realize that the political stances that both Kutcher and DeGeneres have taken in the past might not jive with a lot of us in the ag community. There is, however, definite value in this content, even for us. (And besides that, there’s no denying their talent as entertainers, so let’s cut them the tiniest bit of slack.)

As a rule, you’ve got to work hard to succeed in this business. Feeding the world is a tough way to make a living, but there are thousands of growers, packers and innovators in our industry who thrive in this tough environment through hard work and dedication.

I still wonder, though, do we have a sense of entitlement that may need to be checked? Do we expect the eating public to love and support us just because we’re farmers and, dang it, without us they’re not eating? Do we expect the government to give us everything we ask for because agriculture is the backbone of this nation? Are we entitled to a preferential seat at the table based solely on the merits of the very literal food we bring to it?

Succeeding in today’s marketplace means a lot more than getting our callused hands dirty out in the field. It means being creative marketers and diplomatic negotiators. It means riding the market wherever it may go. It means not expecting anything from anyone until we earn it.

Because, as your dad always told you, success is so much sweeter when it’s earned.