Work with your hands

work with your hands poster

“Everybody isn’t a lawyer or doctor. Teach kids it’s ok to work with your hands and build cool things.” I ran across this poster on LinkedIn last week (you can see it here) and a friend commented that it’s a great time to be in the trades.

Later she wrote me how frustrating it is that people seem to think “. . . being a tradesmen is a secondary dream or something to fall back on if you don’t make it as a doctor . . . It seems the general LI public is really ignorant as to the education and commitment that it takes to be successful in a trade and that it’s not something to be taken lightly. It’s like if you don’t work at a keyboard or on a phone, that you’re less of a professional.

  • The fact is HVAC, plumbing, electrical and other tradesPEOPLE do go to college and are required like many professions to obtain annual CEU’s and certifications.
  • The fact also is that plumbers can expect to earn $80-100k annually.
  • The fact also is that we have a terrible lack of tradespeople available and they are now in a position to call the shots in regards to benefits, schedules and perks.

I don’t think that sounds like something that is a ‘fall back’ . . . I’m seriously disturbed by the attitude of people who clearly consider working with their hands lower in some way . . . and we’re going to find ourselves in a dire situation because we haven’t fostered the trades.”

Her comments reminded me immediately of Shop Class as Soulcraft by Matthew Crawford. I’ve quoted him before on the blog (here and here and here). He’s a PhD who became a motorcycle mechanic. He documents how we have degraded work over time by separating thinking and doing. This is a false separation, as my friend knows. In real work, you can’t separate mental and manual function. Mechanics, plumbers and general contractors constantly confront situations that require diagnosis and good judgment. It’s super insulting that we imagine these people are somehow less intelligent than a banker.

If thinking is bound up with action, then the task of getting an adequate grasp on the world, intellectually, depends on our doing stuff in it. Shop Class as Soulcraft p. 164

Work with Your Hands

Nothing beats experience. When you work with your hands, you see what works and what doesn’t. There’s something tangible in front of you and you get immediate feedback on your progress. You see what you have accomplished. This is highly rewarding to most of us. Who has experienced the feeling that you’ve accomplished more cleaning out your garage then you did all week at work?

There are a couple reasons for this:

  1. We see the whole picture. It’s easy to grasp how our efforts contributed. We can see real differences!
  2. We complete a whole project instead of just filling a desk for a certain amount of hours.

I’m sure you could think of more. If you want meaningful work, it’s important to consider how important tradespeople are to our society. They might not get the respect they deserve, but if you run their jobs through Daniel Pink’s Drive test, they win every time. Autonomy? Check. Mastery? Check. Purpose? Check.

Let’s work on erasing the hierarchy of jobs and instead celebrate the diversity of careers. The next generation needs to know all their options.