Sunday, May 3, 2009

The Art of Work

My dad was a laborer.  He worked in a factory that made lard and other types of shortening.  He took the bus every morning at 4:30 and ride an hour to the factory located around the Detroit Eastern Market and would return home around 4:30pm. He worked hard and took pride in that fact.  He would tell us stories about how he made something run faster or smoother at the plant.  He could outwork, outthink any man there.  Whether it was boosting, fantasy or not, we were enthralled by his stories and his work ethic.  The man was no slacker, not when it came to his job.  If a job needed to be done, he didn’t wait for permission or instructions.  He just did it. Tired and exhausted from the day, he would fall asleep while reading the paper or the encyclopedia and then watch television before he went to bed.

Papi taught us what work really meant.  He had five children to feed and no car.  He got up every morning and went to work for 40 years for wages that barely covered the family expenses. Although I knew we drove him crazy, occasionally giving my mother the look that says, “This is your fault. Why did we have all these kids?” He still had the strength to keep going, to make a life for his wife and children, even if it meant he didn’t have one himself. He was our Boxer.*

One of the many things my dad told us and stuck with me my whole life was, “When the man pays you for forty hours, you give him his forty hours. No hiding, no whining.  You made a contract with him that says you will work forty hours and you were willing to take this amount to do it.  It was your choice.  So you give him his full forty. Make them a smart forty.”

So consequently every one of his kids developed a solid work ethic.  He taught us to be innovative at work; to raise work to an art form.  That’s how you get through the tedium of the job.  No matter how small the job, you could probably find a way to make it faster and smoother.  Look for ways to change the way things are done, because if you can make it better, you make it far easier for yourself in the long run. Look for ways to change the way you move, or think, or judge a particular task.  When you raise your job to an art form, you can take real pride in your work. You made a difference, maybe one that no one else will see or recognize, but a conscious difference within yourself. 

*from George Orwell's animal farm

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