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

by James Glaser
December 19, 2008

Several years ago Jimmy Martin and I were taking carpenter jobs in the summer in Northern Minnesota, and we decided that we could work just as hard as any twenty year old, but for only six hours a day.

We would tell the people we worked for that we would give them the best six hours we had in us each day, but after those six, they were losing money by wanting us to work longer. This plan went well for years, and people began to realize that with our experience, we could many times get as much done in six hours as less experienced workers could in eight.

It is true, after years of working you pick up ways of doing things that are more efficient, and you learn that a few more minutes of thought time can save you hours in the long run. I have learned to like the six hour a day work schedule, and it would really help America's unemployment problem if it was adopted nationally, but you know that isn't going to happen.

In America, employers like to push workers to the point that accidents happen. and worker burn-out is now an epidemic. They do this in the mistaken belief that workers are expendable.

Look at our schools and hospitals. Schools push teachers and hospitals do the same to nurses, and our country now has a shortage of really good people in both fields.

Since I have moved to the South I have continued on with the six hours a day routine, but some days I put in more time. On days that everything is going right, it seems a shame to quit. So, I'll keep working as long as things keep going good. Working for yourself gives you more flexibility too.

Let's say you are cutting on the band saw, and after a while you get a pain between your shoulder blades from working in one position too long. Well, then you can start gluing up parts or maybe you can take the time and go for a walk. Usually you can't do that if you are working for somebody else, but if you could, I know your production would go up, as mine does.

There is one flaw in this way of working. You have to like what you are doing. I have been working with wood for decades, and it is still challenging and fun. I am always thinking of new ways of making things and it is hard to explain to somebody what I am doing, because I am sort of on auto-pilot, moving from one power tool to the next and maybe grabbing a hand tool to finish up. When I'm working like that time just flies by.

I remember working heavy construction up in International Falls, and it would be a surprise when somebody called out "break time" or "lunch." I hear people bitch all the time about their job, and have to wonder why they don't find something to do that they really feel good about.

I think it comes down to a money thing. People will work a job that they hate if the pay is good, and I have done that. At least for me, I would never last at work I didn't like. You don't see it very much any more, but there used to be "Anderson & Sons," or Taylor & Sons. How about Johnson Brothers? Families had businesses they passed down from father to son or even father to daughter.

Now a days, small business has been bought up or forced out by larger companies. Lowes and Home Depot have replaced thousands of family owned hardware stores. CVS and Walgreens have replaced the local pharmacy. It is harder and harder for a young person to learn a trade they can support their family with, and have personal pride in the job they do.

Today you can buy every piece of sheet metal work you need, all shipped from China. Young people have lost the choices their parents had for employment. I tried to get somebody young to take a work bench in my shop, but everybody wants a secure paycheck.

I see young people graduate from Florida State in art, and they want a thousand dollars for their paintings. They think their degree should pay then like the students who took computer science. It doesn't work that way, and after a while, with no art sales at those high prices, they take a job working at a desk pushing papers around, and have that steady pay coming in.

I don't know where this is going, other than I feel sorry for people who don't get a lot of satisfaction out of their work. If you like what you are doing, it is no longer "work." If you like what you are doing you can't wait until tomorrow to start again.

Everything in America is high production, and working with your hands is becoming a thing of the past, but is that a good thing? Just maybe we should think about if personal satisfaction in our work has a place in America. When you are working to please yourself, you will strive to do a much better job than if your are working to please the corporation.

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