He walked on stage looking like a well-groomed rock star. Wearing a dark green velvet blazer, black pants, and tortoise-rimmed glasses, he at least looked the part. Whether or not he sounded it remained to be heard.
But when he pushed his hair back, closed his eyes, and slowly drew the saxophone to his lips, I knew, this is going to be good.
And then he started playing. In the dim light of this chapel-turned-recital hall, I laughed, if not out loud definitely in my head. Not because it was funny, but because it was incredible. It was a laugh of incredulity.
I couldn't believe he was that good.
He breathed, and it was like the whole room inhaled with him. He played, and it's like the audience held their breath so as to not interrupt a single note.
That's when my 7th-grade teacher's words hit me like a ton of bricks.
"I am so looking forward to seeing the fruits of your hard work pay off!"
She wrote that in the front flap of a book she gifted me the week I graduated high school.
I thought I knew what it meant at the time. It's common advice to, "work hard now so you can enjoy the fruits of your labor later."
I always thought that meant, sweat it out now so you can sit on your back porch and sip lemonade in the summer breeze later. The harder you work now, the sooner you can rest and do nothing. Retire early or something like that.
But as I watched this college senior pour his heart out through his instrument, that advice took on a whole new meaning.
The real fruit of my hard work isn't the freedom to stop working. It's the greater capacity to do bigger and better and more challenging work.
Years ago, I'm sure this saxophonist struggled with his scales. His parents painfully sat through his early concerts as their son pushed air through a squeaky instrument.
Without the work, all the love for music in the world could not propel him to produce the sounds he produced that night. But he kept at it. He sowed into his craft and reaped the harvest of excellence.
In this way, the fruit of one's labor ironically leads to more labor. You work hard now to be able to do greater, more beautiful kinds of work later.
It's the soccer player who runs in the mornings before practice so they can literally run circles around their opponents on the field. It's the writer who writes 10 novels until the 11th is published, and the 11th is breathtaking. It's the photographer who will spend hours framing a shot that's taken in a split second.
A musician doesn't pour their heart out in practice so they can retire from their craft sooner. They put in the hours so they can continue to honor their craft at an even higher level.
They're working for the chance to keep going, keep grinding it out, and keep giving their all.
Because in the end, lemonade tastes sweetest when you're sweaty.