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04/12/2004: "Tinting My Collar"

NFT Feature|AMP|#160;|AMP|#160;The grass always seems to be greener on the other side of the fence, doesn't it? Humans appear to have an enormous capacity for desiring more, or wanting something different. Until a couple of years ago I thought I had escaped this tendency in my professional life, but now I have definite desires and wishes for something else. This isn't the normal I-wish-I-had-a-better-job wishing, either - as far as career choices go, I think I've done quite well in choosing my line of work. However, in a rather unexpected twist, I now find myself wanting not to go back and get another degree or somehow shimmy further up the corporate ladder but instead go the other way. I believe it can be summed up quite nicely by saying that I'd like to add some blue to my white-collar job.

Exactly what does that mean? My schooling consisted of an awful lot of theory, with a dose of application thrown in for good measure. I have the ability to figure out problems from First Principles, but as far as knowing how to get widget A to work with thingamabob B, I'm of pretty limited use. I'm finding that I lack the knowledge and skills that can bridge the gap between my theoretical schooling and the practical application of what I'm doing.

This desire manifested itself during my unemployment spell, when I decided that I could be quite content to take up welding. Sure, I've taken a welding course, but it was all theory. Being able to tell you the metallurgy behind welding doesn't mean I'm able to wield a TIG welder. Luckily, I think the tide is starting to turn for me. Thanks in part to the projects I've been working on around my own home, and thanks to my new position at a new company, I'll be getting more hands-on time in 2004 than I've had in the past 5 years combined.

Home ownership doesn't necessarily mean you automatically become a handyman. In fact, the reason I'm doing the projects I am isn't because I'm handy, but because I'm too cheap to get someone to do it for me. That isn't the entire reason, as I do get enjoyment out of doing a project myself, but it's certainly a driving motivation for me as a Do-It-Yourselfer. The only contractor I've hired was someone to come in and auger the post holes for my fence last summer. Other than that, the fencing of my backyard was done entirely by my hands, with some much-appreciated help from a friend. The head-height shelf that spans my garage I built by myself as well, and I'm already well into finishing my basement with nothing but my own resources. It feels good.

My new job is going to be an absolute boon for my hands-on skills development. In all my previous jobs, I've pretty much been a desk jockey. Everything was figured out on paper first, and then sent away to have someone magically turn my pencil-pushings into something tangible. For some industries, this is the only method that is economically viable. This job, however, isn't in one of those industries. If I want to try something, I no longer sit down at a computer and figure it out for a day or so. Instead, I rummage through the scrap steel bin, grab the plasma cutter, and beg some help to weld it all together. As I've only been there a week, and have been rather busy the entire time, I haven't asked for any welding lessons - yet. I'm very much looking forward to learning how to semi-skillfully and successfully weld something together. As entire diploma programs are available in that subject, I don't assume that I'll be a master welder anytime soon, but I'm hoping to be able to passably tack something together pretty quickly.

Why do I feel the need to be good with my hands? I'm not sure. Perhaps it's a symptom of not seeing the results of my work up until this point. This was especially true at my first job, where I worked mostly as a contractor. I would come in, do some work, and leave, never to see the end (let alone the beginning) of the work I had been asked to perform. Even at other jobs I've had where my work has had real, tangible results, it's just not gratifying for some reason. Perhaps simply doing something with my own two hands - hammering something together, assembling something, welding something - is instant gratification, whereas all my paper shuffling and desk jockeying has produced long-delayed and remote results.

One aspect of my own personality that I have to continually overcome is fear, specifically fear of doing something wrong. I am someone that does not readily step outside my comfort zone. However, if I'm ever going to learn new things, I have to be prepared to screw up now and again, and learn from it. If I waited until I had basement-finishing skills to finish my basement, it possibly would have never happened. This fear is even more pronounced at work, where the work I'm doing is accountable to someone other than just myself, and involves much more expensive and dangerous toys to boot. Screwing a 2x4 in wrong is one thing, but blowing a hole in something with a bad weld is quite something else. It'll take practice, but I'll get into a comfort zone eventually.

At times I've wondered if I made a mistake going into a white-collar profession instead of taking a few years at the local community college instead. I don't think I did, but I have yet to find a nice middle ground where professionals like myself can learn trade skills. I'm very fortunate to find myself in the position I am now, where learning to use my hands is simply part of the job.

Replies: 1 Comment

on Tuesday, April 13th, Robert Hahn said

Fine artist man. I told you before, and I'll tell you again, you should've been a fine artist. You get theory AND practice at the same time.

Is this article an epiphany for you? Because I've been thinking that, to use your expression, you've been wanting to add blue to the collar for years.

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