You never know where a seemingly innocuous job will lead.

Back in 1981 — when I still had a six pack and hair — I was just a Jersey kid working my way through college. In the summer of my sophomore year, I wasn’t able to find a job, so I took a backbreaking position — raking rocks for a landscape contractor.

It was pretty brutal work.

Fortunately, a friend of mine, who was superintendent at an upscale apartment complex, took pity on me and gave me a job performing maintenance and upkeep. It was less taxing than rock raking but, make no mistake, it could still be hard work.

One day, I was weeding a slope in front of the apartment complex in sweltering heat and humidity. I was just sopping wet, and these prickly weeds were poking into my legs.

That’s when I heard the voice that would change my life.

In this accusatory Jersey accent, it said, “If you’d gone to college like your mother said, you wouldn’t have such a crappy job!”

When I saw where the voice came from, I had to laugh. It belonged to this older woman leaning out of her apartment window. But rather than ignore her, I turned and said, “As a matter of fact, I’m a chemistry major.”

She changed her tone pretty quickly, and before I knew it, she had invited me into her cool, air-conditioned home to enjoy an iced tea. As it turned out, this lady’s husband worked at a local chemistry company. Luckily, I was able to make a quick impression. “Give me your resume, and I’ll put in a good word for you,” she said.

I wasn’t going to pass up such an offer. By the next summer, I’d moved into the world of running small-scale chemical reactors. There, I learned that, to advance in the chemistry business, I’d need a Ph.D. So I applied to graduate school and followed that path, which is what lead me to where I am today.

It’s true that I met good fortune by meeting this lady. But the experience also reinforced my belief in hard work. Without that, the woman who changed my life may have just ignored me. She saw me working hard, and that led to a conversation, and ultimately to an exciting and rewarding career for me. When people see someone really putting in an effort, they want to help. When they see others not really giving an effort, they think, “Why should I put in an effort to help this person if they don’t put in an effort to help themselves?”

I believe that ethic can be boiled down to two key attributes that ensure success: competence and commitment. If you’re committed and work hard, your competence will increase. Once you reach higher levels of competence and commitment, you’ll outperform anyone else in the field. You don’t change the world working nine to five.

I’ve tried to live by those values and encourage them at NSPF and Genesis, where our staff is charged with creating magic for our customer. And our staff obliges. For example, after Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico, a few of our team members wanted to help our instructors there with a Home Depot gift card. But the storm made it impossible to deliver the card. To get around the obstacles, they called the local store and put a credit in the instructors’ names.

They found a way by making an extra effort. It seems simple, but in today’s world it’s not that common.

I see the same dynamic every time a pool and spa professional opts to get certified or pursue more training. Many people have to take certification courses, but plenty of others make the investment without such mandates. When you see their impact, it’s clear that they’re being rewarded for their hard work.

I continue to work on those values. I want to pass on the good that woman did for me. Hopefully, someone will look back someday and say I helped them.

That would be beautiful.