Friday’s Weekend Column
About a Minnesota Man Exploring Life in the South

Working in the 21st Century
by James Glaser
January 25, 2008

I'll be honest, I am not the best worker you ever met, but in this day and age, I look pretty good. I went to the bookstore in the Tallahassee Mall yesterday, as I needed something mindless to read. My back has been sore, and I'm going to take a day of "light duty" to let it heal.

Yesterday was chilly and rainy, so there weren't that many shoppers in the mall, and walking in I had to pass several businesses on the way to the bookstore. Every place I passed there were workers on the phone, (which could have been a legitimate part of their work) workers reading a book, or workers staring off into space.

I saw nobody cleaning the glass on the jewelry cases, or sweeping the floor, or moving product around, or better yet, trying to coaxe me into their shop. I guess my dad and mom gave me lessons on how to be a good employee. I remember one of them telling me, "even if you have nothing to do, do something that shows the boss you are trying to earn your pay."

I think it was my dad who told me if you are bored in your job, quit that one, and find something that gives you some satisfaction. I really wish that the "guys" back in Minnesota could hear people tell me how hard I work, Steady might be a word that I could accept, but "hard" does not describe my work ethic.

Twenty, even ten years ago I worked hard. Today, I putt along in second gear. There is something about experience that allows me to get more done now than in the past. I make fewer mistakes, and I already know how to do things without experimenting with several other ways.

Mark, the man in the shop next door to me, has taken on an apprentice, and I envy that young man. He has already gone to school to learn the basics, but in these next couple of years he is going to pick up years of Mark's trial-and-error learning experiences.

I think that is why I still like working. Every day something comes up that I know how to do, but because I am working for myself, I can try another way, and see if that's better. If it isn't, I can go back to the old way. When something has to get done right away, I have the knowledge to build it. Most of the time I'm not making conscious decisions on how to do something, I just walk from one tool to the next, as I just know without thinking what the next step in the process is. I do however use some of those old rules other woodworkers taught me when I was young.

"Measure twice and cut once" is just as true today as it was years ago. With the cost of hardwoods today, that rule can save you a lot of money. Plumb, Level, Square is always good to keep in the back of your mind. Another thing I have picked up over the years is to have tape measures all over the shop, sharp pencils near every tool, sketch paper on the work bench, adjustable squares, and a few framing squares in easy sight always comes in handy. Good lighting on the tool is a must, and the number one thing to keep a good flow in your work patterns is to have a clean shop.

If you clean up every day when you quit, I should say, clean up and put away your tools, you can have a real nice start to the next time when you come in. I don't care how careful you are, a work shop gets messy, but if you at least keep it clean, sorting out the mess doesn't take that long. On top of that, potential clients can see that you care about what you are doing.

I don't know why those people working in that Mall were sitting around doing nothing, but I do know that is a bad habit to establish at that young age. The blame must be shared with their parents, their boss, and themselves. A young person today who has a good work ethic will be able to do anything he or she wants. Hard workers are in demand, and there is a secret about hard work. You work hard, and the day flies right on by.

Something else I have noticed. For five years I was Commander of our local VFW Post, and every month at the meeting I would look out at the members and see fewer and fewer of them. Most were World War II veterans and they were getting up there in age. The vets who stayed healthy, both physically and mentally, were the ones who kept working. There are still members in their 80s' working, maybe not 40 hours a week, but putting in some time every day. Work, exercises both their mind and body. Plus they keep in contact with younger people that way, and that can make life more interesting.

Post Script:

I should have written about my art opening, but I forgot until I started reading this column over, so I'll write about it next week with some pictures.

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