Finding out who I am at work started with a little soil searching
By Cooper Powers
Recently my cousin and I were toiling beneath the unrelenting Florida sunshine, immensely parched even though the very air we were huffing felt saturated, when I realized something about myself and how I perceive work.
My cousin is a landscape architect—a damn good one in my opinion—and we were in the throes of an installation around the perimeter of a client’s house. My well-seasoned cousin was showing me—a novice in the landscaping realm—those proverbial ropes.
Make no mistake, I’m very acquainted with dirt and drudgery, but more so of the construction kind. I’ve restored antique cars and helped build some houses; so, yeah, I wear a thin outline of grime around my cuticles as a badge of pride (much to the vexation of my mother at the supper table).
Still, as the heat was at its zenith, so then was my composure as I was digging through all manner of debris and hidden stone that was hell-bent on slowing me down. We still had the next day’s maintenance to worry about, which begged the question “why couldn’t we just do all this work at once and be done with it?” These were murmurings of a sun-whipped worker to be sure, but the more pressing question I was asking myself was “Why did I lack the patience for this type of work now when I’ve worked this hard before without issue?”
Usually, I keep my emotional cards pretty close to my chest, but that is solely contingent upon an air-conditioned environment. Outside, in the muggy grossness, my cousin easily noticed the scowl I wore with each shovelful of dirt I tossed and he casually mentioned how much he enjoyed this aspect of the job. Maybe he thought his enthusiasm would produce some magical breeze of empathy from my sweat-drenched soul.
I pondered his statement for a minute, trying to work out why I was so averse to this type of work: planting flowers and grasses, the slow growth, incremental progress. My face softened, partially due to a minor heat stroke but mostly due to my sudden internalization that I enjoy unique projects of immediate permanence and scale. I like a different type of work.
See, my cousin enjoys the completion of a project over time, where he can see it grow and transform before his eyes to create a vibrant new landscape. I’m a fan of the immediate satisfaction of completion; I’ve put my last nail in or paint stroke on this fixture, so let’s move on to the next item on the list. I am the lattice work to his climbing wisteria.
I think how you prefer your job (and steak—different article) can say a lot about how you approach life. Labor as preference goes unexamined, which I think can lead to a lot of frustration in an employer/employee relationship. Whether physical or mental, repetitive or varying, people work differently. It’s logical, though not accurate, to think that patience (or the lack thereof) can be pinned directly onto the type of work that we select.
For example, I prefer jobs with a single, fixed goal seen to completion with little to no chance of revisiting it outside of repair. This is so any future tasks won’t be interrupted. Consider my cousin’s bottom-up approach with multiple goals to be accomplished in a more relaxed order. It’d be easy from a surface view to classify us as impatient and patient, respectively. I posit that my cousin and I both have similar amounts of patience, but it’s structured in a way to facilitate efforts on an individualized level. Employers take note; working smarter not harder applies here.
Shoveling dirt and hammering a nail may be synonymous to some. Work is work is work in their minds. For those unlucky few who have indecision where they spend their perspiration, scurry for some shade and give it a think. You may be surprised to find that murky mind could work better in a different environment or with a different task. Or, it could also just be from heat exhaustion. In which case, you need fluids immediately.
Cooper Powers is a returning contributor to Sunnyhuckle and a freelance writer. You can read some of his new fiction on his Patreon page.