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The case for working with your hands

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July 11, 2009 – Comments (5)

My bro sent me this link. A very good read, especially about the superiority complex that people have when sitting in offices, exercising nothing but their donut-lifting arm. I'm lucky in that my work here at TMF doesn't require me (too often) to sacrifice my brain at the altar of business groupnonthink. However, no amount of thinking in front of a computer can really fully satisfy that urge (considered lowbrow) that many of us have just to get something made with our hands.

Many of my hobbies are intellectual/mechanical in nature (bike repair, building custom bike parts of carbon fiber, designing custom-machined aluminum bike parts, photography) to help scratch this itch.

My favorite snippet.

As it happened, in the spring I landed a job as executive director of a policy organization in Washington. This felt like a coup. But certain perversities became apparent as I settled into the job. It sometimes required me to reason backward, from desired conclusion to suitable premise. The organization had taken certain positions, and there were some facts it was more fond of than others. As its figurehead, I was making arguments I didn’t fully buy myself. Further, my boss seemed intent on retraining me according to a certain cognitive style — that of the corporate world, from which he had recently come. This style demanded that I project an image of rationality but not indulge too much in actual reasoning. As I sat in my K Street office, Fred’s life as an independent tradesman gave me an image that I kept coming back to: someone who really knows what he is doing, losing himself in work that is genuinely useful and has a certain integrity to it. He also seemed to be having a lot of fun.

5 Comments – Post Your Own

#1) On July 11, 2009 at 9:43 AM, TMFBent (99.83) wrote:

Bah, for got the links don't work in caps until the end of july.

Here it is again.

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#2) On July 11, 2009 at 9:51 AM, portefeuille (99.56) wrote:

The Case for Working With Your Hands

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#3) On July 11, 2009 at 11:54 AM, ralphmachio (23.67) wrote:

"this style demanded that i project a image of rationality but not indulge too much in actual reasoning."  -  Priceless.  

I encounter this stance quite often, and find it laughable, but bothersome because although it doesn't have a leg to stand on, it seems to be enough to engender some respect from non-thinkers who want to hear other people agree with those who have already dictated their reality for them.

Sometimes the faults of common arguments are very subtle and hard to define.  Way to hit the proverbial nail right on the head TMFBent. 

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#4) On July 11, 2009 at 12:09 PM, angusthermopylae (40.04) wrote:

I've mentioned them before, but here are my "busy hands" endeavors:

  --Amateur blacksmith (tools, metal roses, hangers, and such)

  --Vegetable garden and flower gardens (We built a small greenhouse this March, and I'm experimenting with how early and late I can keep things growing.  Plus, we grow a good portion of our own vegetables...healthy and cheap!)

  --Goats...lots and lots of goats.

  --Firewood for winter heating, from our own land.

  --Maintenance of all the equipment (cars, mowers, chainsaws, etc.)

On top of all that, I write software for fun.  Not exactly an outside job, but I can work through software problems while I'm shoveling manure onto the compost heap.

I'm also working on going back to school for my Masters and, possibly, a PhD.  I've got an interview with two professors at Ohio University Monday, and would like to get into the Computer Sciences and Engineering Technology department.

The thought that occurs to me most often is how my buddies from the past would be aghast at the lifestyle I'm leading now:  Knee deep in manure and animals, fiddling with flowers, and banging on hot metal like a primitive. 

Then I just chuckle to myself, because I'm happy, and this kind of work keeps me grounded in reality.  Plants, animals, forges, and fireplaces don't care about your intentions, plans, or fallible reasoning; all they care is that you perform certain requirements, and follow the basic rules.  The results depend on your skill in applying those actions.

Not like the corporate/government world at all.

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#5) On July 11, 2009 at 3:45 PM, amassafortune (29.67) wrote:

With every serious economic downturn, there is a natural reappraisal of one's human needs to contribute and belong. The corporate world tends to take us away from the satisfaction of our core needs with each higher level of accomplishment, though Maslow's low-level physiological and safety needs are well-supported by the corporate world. In bad times, when even low-level needs may be threatened, goals beyond core needs seem even harder to attain. 

The comic strip Dilbert captures every possible angle of the bizzaro corporate culture. I like the one where a management trainee is introduced. After several serious frames, the final caption is, "and we think his hair is going to turn silver."

The best job I ever had was for $1.00/hour on a farm at 14 yrs. (ag is exempt from minimum wage). Access to a jeep, riding on eight tiers of a trailer of baled hay, jumping in the pond during lunch. You'd have to be a supermodel in the corporate world for it to be acceptable to show up dripping wet for the afternoon session.

Growing things and creating. That's at the core of satisfaction. Gardens, children, and hobbies give more honest feedback than an annual merit review. Most reviews hinge on how well you fullfilled the boss' goals, not your own. Gardens and children give the most honest reviews and they're usually on a simple pass/fail scale. If you pick a ripe tomato and successfully add it to a sandwich, you pass. If your teen will sit with the family in a restaurant without rolling their eyes, you pass.

Ditto on the chainsaw above. For my 15th year in the corporate world, I got one of those corporate gift flyers where you get to choose from an array of congratulatory trinkets. So, I asked the family what they wanted - a croquet set, wine glasses, jewelry, that kind of stuff. After considering all the options, they said, "You put in the time, so just pick what you want." Well, after years in a cubicle and in front of a computer screen, I thought it would be good to have a chainsaw if needed for our two trees (less than 6" dia) on our city lot. They still laugh at me for that, but now I have a rural woodlot with hundreds of trees and a bigger Stihl saw to fell the weak, diseased, and crooked - kind of like a corporate HR outplacement person only they tend to pass over the crooked.   

I will substitute a dog for the goats, but I can kinda see that, too. Fire made without matches is the only thing I will add. Remember  in Napoleon Dynamite how he laments that he doesn't have any good skills - "You know, like nunchuku skills, bowhunting skills, computer hacking skills." Take a page from the North Korean Army, along with the computer hacking skills, you need to be able to make fire without matches. The celebration of Tom Hanks in Cast Away after he finally achieves flame is the quintessential image of a corporate lackey (full disclosure - I own some FedEx) finding the joy of working with his hands and achieving core skills.  

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