A Colorful Lesson

I’ve always been a white collar worker, hunched in front of a computer for over 20 years now. There was no Good Will Hunting moment in my life where I wanted to do construction, or be a maintenance worker, and had someone tell me to use my gifts. It just sort of happened that writing was my thing, and I didn’t need to carve it out on a stone tablet.

So when I have the opportunity to do any type of blue collar work, I typically enjoy it. Or, rather, the idea of it. And the challenge of it. Something to prove I am still kind of manly and can do physical labor.

(Side note: do blue collar workers ever get excited about the opportunity to do white collar work? Some mechanic gets in front of a computer and begins coding, or is a whiz at math, and just looks forward to setting aside time on a Saturday afternoon to bang away on a calculator?)


Whenever something around the house needs fixing, or I am able to do the most minute amount of work on a car, I look forward to it. I’ve done brake jobs on my car, fixed faucets and things around the house, and when I’m done I have this odd sense of pride.

Exactly like the first human who made fire.

I wasn’t always this way. Teenage years are hard enough to find motivation, so battling my own age-related laziness and the aspirations of a step-dad who always had to be tinkering around the house did not stir up excitement in my belly.

My step-dad and I re-built my first car. Well, he mostly built and I mostly watched – but he wasn’t going to just do it on his own. I had to show the interest and help make it happen. A four-month job was easily eight.

Or when he’d come springing into my bedroom on a Saturday morning, probably like 7 a.m. and announce Rise and shine, it’s working time! Nothing like that to really motivate a 15-year-old who yearned for 17 hours of sleep a day.

Teenage years, man.

But, there is something gratifying to doing blue collar work. Rather than hitting “publish” at the end of this blog post and hoping it reaches the Internet – relying on so many things out of my control – there is the “check me out” factor of a job well done. You can build a desk and point to it, Hey, I made that.

Especially when it concerns your own things. Like your house.

I got jazzed this week to go out into our backyard and rake leaves. (How many people can actually, truthfully, write that sentence?) We’re not talking about a strip of grass and some measly little tree. Nuh-uh. More like two-thirds of an acre covered in prehistoric maple leafs, an act of manly-ness that even the most hardened steel workers would be impressed with.

There is this excitement that my daughter has of wanting to do things my wife and I do. It’s her growing up, testing her own limits, and also wanting to do what mommy and daddy do. Rather than go to the grocery store with mom, she wanted to stick around and work in the backyard with dad.

It’s hard to corral a five-year-old who has the attention span of a goldfish. Knowing that, I wasn’t going to just let her hang behind me in the yard. We only have one rake. I needed to give her a job.

I found her a push broom and asked her to sweep up the patio portion of our yard, clearing space where the leaves were. This gave me a chance to keep her occupied, to talk to her while we were in the yard, and to – hopefully – teach her about the benefits of a little hard work to keep things nice around the house.

About three minutes in to the job, I hear this: Daddy, I think you put too much on my shoulders.

Where does that come from? Did she hear me talking about my work, or just adult stresses about “a lot on my shoulders” and she used it? And used it correctly!

I laughed as I raked.

Sweetheart, why don’t you try to do it? Just see if you can. Challenge yourself!

It’s that motivational type of talk that my wife has heard a few too many times from me about whatever, so the chance to try it out on a new audience member made me excited.

It also stirred up memories of challenging yourself and not giving up. Whether it’s something silly like when you’re running and trying to cut off a second from your mile time, or something more difficult like living in a new country without knowing the language, we should never tire with challenging ourselves. Without that, is life really worth it? Keep climbing or get out of the way.

I want to instill this mindset in my daughter as much as I can. And, each little time I do it through some mundane chore, the hope is that she will learn that a good challenge can be very rewarding. Like doing blue collar work when you’re a white collar worker.

When she was done – and, for the record, she did a great job – I asked her: Did you like the challenge? Are you happy you didn’t give up?

Yes, Daddy. I looked at these leaves, and I just thought in my brain *flipping her hand in the air* ‘I can do this.’ And I did it.

This was an easy lesson for her. The hard part will be when she tries hard, challenges herself in something else, and fails miserably. It happens to everyone, how we rebound from it is what makes us stronger.

And that’s true no matter what color your collar is.

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