I am still alive, just sitting here getting odds and ends worked out. It will be at least a month before I have internet at the house, and shortly after that I will likely be moving again. Just depends on what happens. Anyway, a while back I heard Mike Rowe talking (again) about people telling their kids to “Work smarter not harder,” and how that is what ails America today. The problem is, he is using the comment out of context.
In the context he uses it, it sounds like people are trying to think of ways out of hard work. Or for that matter work in general. The fact is, “work smarter not harder” is roughly the equivalent of a carpenter repeatedly telling you to “measure twice, cut once”. Think about it for a moment in the terms I just presented. If I have five tasks to do in a store, ranging from getting displays working, changing light bulbs, to fixing the clogged toilet in the men's room, how should I proceed? Do I randomly run around the store fixing all the displays, then randomly change the bulbs that are out, and finally fix the toilet?
In this case, I am going to work smarter, not harder. I am not going to fix the displays, then the lights, and finally the toilet. I am going to start at one point in the store, fix the lights and displays as I move around the store, saving the toilet for last (depending on where the bathroom is and what is pressing to the boss). Not because I am lazy, but because I want my supervisors and boss to see that I am doing my job quickly and efficiently. The easiest way to do that is to work smarter.
It is nothing to do with being lazy, or unwilling to work. It has to do with the fact that I want to get my punch list done, and move onto other things that might come up. But Mr. Rowe has forgotten that no matter what line of work you are in, you need to work smartly, or you will create a situation where a five minute job takes an hour (which is good for you if you are getting paid by the hour, at least for a while).
Look, I understand where Rowe is coming from. He feels that by preaching at kids and young adults to work smarter, not harder, that we are creating an environment where young adults feel they went to college to get an “easy job.” That they think their education puts them above working in a fast food joint, or cleaning out sewers, or slaughtering the animals we eat. But he is mistaken when he generalizes a whole group of people.
You see, some of the problem is that one cannot support themselves or a family working many jobs in the United States (I had to move back home working 40+ hours a week working security for minimum wage). He also neglects that so many jobs now require specialized degrees. Want to be a social worker, you have to have a BS degree in Social Work. Want to be a Correctional Officer, depending on where you are applying, you need a BS degree. Want to be a welder, electrician, plumber, or operate equipment you have to be certified. If it was a question of simply working harder anyone could easily get the certifications for these jobs. But you have to go to school to learn, that costs money, and creates an environment where the job does not pay enough to balance the books.
Sure, I could go to work at McDonald's, spend five to ten years busting my chops there. If my track record in every job I have ever had, holds up, within three years I would be in management, within a decade I would likely own my own franchise. But lets take a step back for a minute, that three years would require that I live at minimum wage, on less than forty hours a week, struggling with one or more jobs, just trying to survive. Just to show that Rowe is right, working harder does eventually pan something out. And that also assumes that nothing goes wrong, that the store I work at has no problems, that everything goes exactly right.
So we really need to tall our kids something else. Yes, work smarter, not harder. Work in a way that you are efficient, hence the work smarter. But you also need to be willing to work hard. Ultimately, the working hard is not really the problem. There are plenty of people who are willing to step down from their education to work retail, as plumbers, welders, electricians, portable toilet cleaners, what have you, providing they can make a decent living at it. Dirty jobs are not a problem for me, if there was a slaughter house nearby, and it paid a wage I could live on, I would be happy to spend my days knee deep in blood, guts and gore. But if it doesn't pay enough that I can come home, take a good long hot shower, no thanks, I'll pass.
Not because I am lazy but because I understand one simple fact that many have forgotten or never knew. I would pass because it would not advance me in any way. Sure, earning money when you haven't been does advance you, but to that point it also costs money. Sure, I worked at a store for several months, part time as a seasonal employee. But I could walk there. I didn't have to worry about car payments, and car insurance. I can deal with eating a dollar bag of chips for lunch, I live cheap, so bringing home a few hundred dollars every two weeks was better than nothing. But the job requirements of a different job might include driving (which has costs). If that job would have been further from my home, I might not have taken it, because it might have left me worse off. Again, working smarter not harder.
At the end of it, we as a society need to come to terms of this simple thing. Some people elect to go to college, because they believe that they can better serve their families and community in fields that require a college education. Sure, some people go for crap degrees in obsolete fields, that have no real purpose (outside of making the college money), and rather than condemn people for going to college, Mr. Rowe ought to consider condemning for-profit education systems. If he did, we might actually find more people willing to take those dirty jobs, because they won't be in debt. Hell, I would go one step further and say that if people had a fair shake at things, you'd have more people willing to go back into the country, grab a few acres, grab some cows and make a go at farming. I know I would.