The Designer’s Notebook

Meaningful Work

We all want to do something meaningful with our lives, and these days, we would prefer if our work brought that meaning to it. Whether it’s just being a part of something greater, philanthropic, or just “cool” – the feeling is the same. Work should matter. Really, I’m no different.

Except I am. I have been lucky blessed enough to work with enough Baby Boomers and a few older than them to realize how good we have it today. Well, good aside from the crippling debt and lack of overall opportunities to get started in life… but that’s another topic. This is about work. I’ve worked under people that have actually had to work, not sit around listening to music solving visual problems and watching trends. I have some pretty stout beliefs about work, and what it means.

In college, the sculpture technician (the guy who’s job it was to help us actually do stuff like welding) was intimidating. First he was old. He was also tough. He was also a retired Air Force mechanic from WWII.  He could build anything, invent new cuss words at a whim and really had no time to waste on any little brats who couldn’t recognize they were in art school and could luxuriously lounge around complaining about how hard it was. He often said “If you don’t love it here, what the hell are you doing here? Fuck off.”  Bill believed in me, and taught me a lot, but mostly I gained two things – lots of cuss words and knowledge that things are MADE. Idea is not enough. That was an era before freelancing and sweatshops. Ideas are ethereal. Make something of your ideas.

My first job in the “biz” I worked at a local print shop as a proof-reader. Yep, I read for a living. That and got to do manual paste-up, which is why I can freehand presentation boards today. My boss there had worked for his previous employer for 40 years. Forty. Years. He started the little shop upon “retirement”. His sage advice was that “tenure was everything”. I was stunned by that. I was coming up in the beginning of the get-a-new-job-once-a-year era. But, that’s what the old boys were told – take care of the company, and the company takes care of you. I’d kill for one of them there pension thingies. Such a foreign concept today. From this I really learned to value the longer term view. That is: you may not win today, in fact, who cares if you win today. Win tomorrow (unless you are in the Superbowl, or have to meet a deadline, in which case, win today as well).

My father-in-law often talks of his youth, another time and place. Seriously… who drives a 1927 anything? What was it a Model T? It was only the fifties for goodness sake. But often we talk about opportunity – today we have the opportunity to do just about anything, go anywhere and crowd-source it on the way. I suppose the problem there is that the opportunities are often not in places like Red Deer, so our best and brightest often leave. But, here is a guy who can literally build anything… and travels the world doing that, and his comment on youth was “I dunno, I just needed a job, I didn’t have many choices really.” Today we can go make movies, adventure, rig the stock markets, do whatever – but not so far back choices were carpenter or plumber. This has taught me to be grateful.

A young (at heart) lady who hangs around Redpoint now and again often speaks of all she does for others, taking care of people, working to make lives better, just generally contributing. It’s funny, you start to realize how selfish you can be when someone around you is selfless. I have learned that the quality of others’ lives increases the quality of my own.

60 years ago meaningful work was to pay your bills, and take care of your family. Anyone who has worked for/with me will have heard this: “Everyone spends their time on the end of a shovel. Shovel crap and get used to it. But wait – wait for the moments when truly amazing work comes by and seize it. Then grab it and shake it for all it’s worth, soak it all in and win the championship game when you get the chance.” This is my convoluted way of merging the old with the new,  and that, in a nutshell, or about 80 years, is what I see as meaningful work. In the words of my dad, “if your going to do it all, might as well do a good job”.

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