Knowing how to perform a job and striving for excellence at that job — that used to describe a typical American worker. Lately, it seems to me, we lack both in the field of work. I’ve had too many encounters with people who don’t seem to know how to do their jobs and those who don’t care enough to take pride in doing their work to the best of their ability.
During a phone conversation yesterday with our son, we chatted about the necessary items like important mail he received here at the homestead and how his work week progressed at his new job. Then we shifted to topics like his first surfing lesson Saturday.
My middle aged body isn’t the least bit interested in surfing, but my middle aged mind retorts, “Oh, to be young again!” about the exciting aspects of son’s life. Enjoying a day at the beach whenever you feel like it sounds pretty enticing to me, but forget about the surfing lesson!
As we conversed, son described new people he’s met – one being a young family man who is employed in construction but is a trained artist. This young man apparently owns a workshop where he “builds things” like furniture. He invited son to come over any time, design in hand, and he would assist son in bringing his design to life.
Our son is a mechanical engineer and tools, machines, and what not really float his boat. (Maybe he watched too many episodes of “Home Improvement” growing up! Arrr, arrr!) Anyway, I could tell he was energized at the prospect of woodworking.
He has an artistic flair himself, likes designing, and seeing plans become reality. One summer he drew on paper how he would build a kind of arbor/seating area in our back yard. Unfortunately, working a summer internship, playing his favorite sport, and spending time with friends pushed the plans onto the back burner.
Last summer, however, he did manage to construct something for the young lady he was dating at the time – a beautiful wooden jewelry box. He found plans for crafting the box itself, which took several tries (there was a lot of power saw noises coming from the garage) until he was satisfied with the outcome. He then developed his own design to finish it.
The young lady’s dorm room sported a beach theme, so son whitewashed the jewelry box, attached wooden trim that looked like sailing ship halyards, drew and cut out a wooden ship’s wheel, and used a wooden crafted anchor for the box lid handle. He hand-crafted a tray for inside the box and lined both the tray and the box in blue felt.
His first attempt at building such a box turned out quite well. The young lady was surprised and pleased. I believe she wasn’t just impressed by the actual jewelry box, but also by the fact that son had constructed it with his own hands and devoted much time and effort into creating it. Making the box himself instead of purchasing one at the mall demonstrated his thoughtfulness and caring.
The box wasn’t perfect, but the thought he put into it was. Perfection comes with lots of practice and I’m confident if he continued constructing boxes, each one would have been better than the last. Craftsmanship takes talent for certain, but it also takes practice.
This thought occurred to me while I was watching a craftsman recently. This summer, hubby and I purchased much-needed new family room furniture. The old furniture was simply worn out, threadbare, and actually starting to break down.
There was no shame for the old sleeper sofa, which survived two major cross country moves and 20 years worth of children’s rowdy romping, sick at home napping, slumber parties, video game parties, late night movie watching and pizza snacking, and more overnight guests than I can recall. In the last few years, a bevy of gangly adolescent boys caught a few “zzzs” on that couch!
I surveyed the new furniture when it was delivered and did not see any apparent damage, but one night as hubby and I were camped out in front of the TV, I ran my hand over the arm of the loveseat and to my dismay discovered a small slit in the fabric. I suspect while the deliverymen wrestled that piece of furniture through my door it caught on a hinge or something.
A call to the furniture store brought a furniture “technician” to our house. The older gentleman, short in stature and words, examined it, reported the arm would need recovered, and he would contact us when “the piece came in.” After he left, I was a little baffled. I had expected the store to take the easy route, just deliver a new loveseat, and take back the damaged one, not actually pay someone to repair it. But it was their dime, not mine.
Furniture man, as I have taken to dubbing him, called in a week or so to make arrangements to repair the loveseat. He arrived, still short of words, and began working diligently. This was no easy task and required some expertise in the art of upholstery. As I watched him, I could tell furniture man was a real craftsman.
I laughingly told him I had trouble re-covering my daughter’s dining room chair seats (basically squares) at the rounded corners, yet he positioned the pleats necessary on the rounded corners of the loveseat arm effortlessly. He just nodded, uttered, “Takes practice,” and continued his work. Every so often, he stepped back, inspected his efforts, and then patted the furniture lovingly as if to say, “Yes, you’re looking good!”
Two and a half hours later, the job was finished. He required nothing from me but a paper towel to wipe his sweating brow, even though I offered him a cool drink of water several times. When I asked him, “So is this what you get to do every day, go around fixing people’s furniture?” he (of few words) responded, “Yep.”
Looking carefully at my new loveseat, I defy anyone to be able to distinguish that it had been torn apart and recovered – that’s how excellently furniture man performed his job and his pride in accomplishing his task was obvious. I thanked him, told him I appreciated the exemplary job, to which he simply replied, “You’re welcome.”
While I observed him, I wondered how many young people are learning to reupholster furniture or even how to repair it. How many learn trades like plumbing, mechanics, carpentry, painting, auto body repair, wallpapering, barbering, landscaping…..?
The younger generation seems to be attracted to and obsessed with technology and careers in that field must be desirable to them. They are constantly being told they need to have a college education to find a job. But if everyone in the younger generation goes to college, who will learn vocational trades?
So I wonder, who will fix their cars, unplug their drains, or build their furniture? What will happen when furniture man and all those who labor in a trade retire? Will those who believe practice makes perfect even exist?