I grew up in the Midwest and so I am stereotypically wired to appreciate the value of hard work. It’s possible that if I had grown up somewhere else, I might not be a workaholic. Possible, but not likely.
Over the last 24 hours, I had an opportunity to shadow the employees at my company who do the real work. I watched as the night shift picked and loaded shipments and followed along as a driver delivered product to a dozen customers over an eleven-hour shift. I got four and a half hours sleep between shifts and walked more than 14,500 steps and 6.75 miles. I pushed myself 100% harder than I normally do.
It felt great.
When I got back to the office today, a number of people asked me how it went. I told them, honestly, that it was a great experience and I was very appreciative of the time and effort that the team spent to help me learn the business. There was surprise, because I think it’s hard to believe that what you do every day, day-in and day-out, could be valuable to anyone else. I get that. I’ve worried about whether I bring enough value to the world, too.
But here’s the thing that I got to see that I don’t get to live every day:
- Tangible completeness. The work was specifically defined and could be finished. We started with a trailer full of product and after a day’s worth of hard work it was empty. My work is so rarely that neat — instead I have ‘good enough for now, do more later.’ It was rewarding to be done, if only for a day.
- Clear value. Each stop along the way we were met by real people who were counting on us. People with empty shelves that needed to be filled. Everyone was waiting, eager for their product deliveries. I heard more than a few people say, “see you next week” as we headed off on our way.
- Physical tiredness. There are many days that I go home on fumes, my brain exhausted and my eyes red but I rarely have the bone deep tiredness that comes with activity. I’m sure that if I had to do it every day that I would look at it differently, but today I appreciate the weariness that comes from honest effort.
The guys that let me into their day-to-day life treated me like a VIP — I was from corporate and had a fancy title. But the reality is that I spent at least as much time as they did worrying about the visit. I worried that I would be in their way or upset the carefully coordinated steps of their work. I worried that I would say something stupid, or at the least something uniformed. I worried that I would look silly in the uniform. (Truthfully, I did.)
Worry aside, though, I’m glad I did it. I got closer to the work of my company and to our customers than I have been in three years. I was able to connect what I do every day to the people who benefit from it. And I was able to remind myself about the value of good, hard work. The kind of work that so many of my friends and family members do every day while I am sitting in meetings, helping people clear bureaucratic hurdles and building awesome spreadsheets and presentations.
And in case I forget, tomorrow I’ll have the aches and pains to remind me all about it.