Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Dirty Jobs and other worthwhile endeavors

While walking through campus last week, I was swallowed up in a sea of students making their way from one class to the next. In this flood of young faces, you could imagine that many of these students will go on to become very successful. Likewise, it was not terribly hard to imagine that more than a few were just wasting their parent’s money or piling up a mountain on student loans with not a lot to show for it. Knowing a few students who have just graduated from UC Davis, as well as my wife who is an Aggie alum, I understand the hard work that goes into earning that diploma.

It does make me wonder how many of these successful young adults could actually survive a week of hard labor. Not a week behind the counter at Subway or Starbucks, but a week with a landscaping crew, a plumbing contractor, or working on a farm. Not that I am playing a game of class warfare, pitting blue collar workers against their white collar counterparts, I am simply wondering if people today understand the value of hard work.

If you ever wonder why I started working in the communications field, it was a direct result of my previous employment in the concrete cutting and breaking industry. I guess you could call me a hypocrite, but at age 30, I was standing on a scaffold, in the rain, operating a concrete saw thinking that there had to be an easier way to make a living. Fortunately, I found one. Whenever I start thinking that I have had a particularly tough day at work, I just remember those 12-hour days loading chunks of broken concrete into a wheelbarrow. My "tough day" seems to melt away with a little perspective.

It seems with all the technological advancements we have in our modern world, we still have not found a way to replace every hard or dirty job in America. That I think, is not such a bad thing. There is a feeling you get at the end of a long day, with your shirt soaked through and your boots covered in dust, which some people will never experience. That is a shame.

I worry sometimes that we are raising a generation who could not plant a tree from a one-gallon container without watching a YouTube video on the proper procedures, buying a new pair of gloves, kneepads, and a fiberglass handled shovel from Home Depot. Are we becoming a nation of people who have to call a plumber when the toilet backs up? Maybe there is a YouTube video for that too.

I guess not everyone has the everyday skills our parents had; maybe that is a good thing, maybe not. I guess if you make enough money, all the skill you need is the ability to find a handyman and write a check. That is a handy skill to have, if your bank account can back it up.

Having been raised on a cattle ranch I spent my youth chasing cows, stacking truckloads of hay and building fences, pipelines and barns. Doing these dirty jobs as a kid was wonderful experience when I went out into the world. Can you operate a backhoe? Yes. Can you drive a dump truck? Yes. Can you weld and run a cutting torch? You bet.

Many of you who grew up in the city had different experiences, and while you probably never had your arms inside a cow's private parts trying to pull a calf, I'll bet you have stories of helping your father re-roof or paint your house, or some other dirty job that you remember fondly. Well, you remember it fondly now, at the time I will bet your feelings were a bit different.

Being able to complete a hard task is a good thing, and I believe it may be something you just can't replace with success or income. I guess the more you earn, the less hard work you have to do, but there is that special feeling you get after you finish a hard job. If you have never experienced that good night's sleep after a long, hard day, you just won't understand.

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