Thursday, March 11, 2021

Labor Manual


Audio only

Script below...

Today I want to tell you about my first customers, clients, and sales as a professional of some kind—perhaps even the first people that I helped in terms of work when I was a youth growing up in Wisconsin. From those first jobs, I learned one thing. I learned that physical labor can teach anyone focus and persistence. In fact, physical labor—manual labor—has benefits that I actually miss to this day in my career as an adult.

My earliest jobs were largely physical, outdoors, and for my age at the time, challenging. For at least one winter, I worked as a substitute newspaper delivery boy and went door-to-door delivering newspapers for someone who couldn't  for whatever reason during the deepest cold we experienced. I also worked to earn money as a kid shoveling snow, still in Wisconsin, and mowing lawns. Those were my first jobs.

For most of those jobs I was in either grade school or junior high, what is now called middle school. In high school I was mostly not working summers or working internships leading up to college. I learned several things from those earliest jobs even though I was so young.

The first thing I learned is that the customer is always right. When you're delivering newspapers, if you miss a delivery day because you think it's too cold or because you don't want to get up before sunrise—or if you're running late and you miss the window of delivery before one of your customers leaves for work, that person can cancel their subscription. If you lose enough subscriptions, you can lose the route as a delivery person. 

If you get called by a neighbor at the end of the dead end to shovel extremely heavy wet slush while it's still snowing, you have to take the call. That happened to me once, and I tried to put it off until it was at least done snowing. But the neighbor wanted the driveway shoveled right then. If I hadn't agreed to do it, he would have called someone else to do so. I had to decide if I wanted to keep the work despite the imposition. If you mow lawns for someone and that person thinks you need to do a better job, pay more attention to the straightness of the rows, or otherwise be more detail oriented, take the feedback. Your job could depend on it. 

Secondly, I learned that outdoor work can make you more aware of the world around you. Working outside, you pay more attention to the weather, to the temperature, to the changing of the light, and to what your body is going to need to work outside in those conditions. Office buildings and other workplaces can cut us off from the world around us and isolate us to one of two places, either work or home. There's a whole world in between, and working outside can help you spend more time in it and learn more about it. You can learn the rhythm of the day.

Finally, I learned that physical labor has a progress bar. White collar work often doesn't. When you're working outside—shoveling snow, mowing lawns, or delivering newspapers—you know exactly where you are. You know how much you've done, and you know how much left you have to do. 

Even when I was working at the Scout camp, a job I worked the summer after high school, I worked in the kitchen. One of my favorite parts of that job was cooking pancakes on the griddle. The griddle was just the right size, such that I could lay down pancake batter, and as soon as I finished, the griddle full of pancakes, it was time for me to flip the pancakes. Then, as soon as I had finished flipping the griddle full of pancakes, it was time to take them off. Cooking pancakes, I could actually achieve almost a zen state, and I miss that in my work, as well. I sometimes find flow in my work, in deep work, but I don't have that progress bar. I don't have the comfort that comes from knowing exactly where I am, how much I've done, and how much I have to do. Very little work is like that now. Some of my projects last for years, and I miss that sense of clarity and accomplishment tremendously.

Those are just a few things that I learned from my first jobs, my first customers, and my first work. I still think about those lessons today.

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