July 15, 2019 - Robert John Hadfield
Having Something to Show
The Drive to Dig Ditches
When I turned 14 I got my first actual summer job. I was hired along with a handful of other young men by a small real-estate development company. We were an in-house landscaping crew laying sod, planting trees and flowers and other basic needs around the exterior of various buildings and houses.
I wasn’t particularly good at it, but I was a young man who fit the bill. So the following summer I found another job doing the same thing. And each summer after that thorugh high school and part of college I worked a landscaping job.
I made a lot of money for a kid my age too. Work would start at 7:00 am and sometimes not finish until the sun was going down. And periodically we worked Saturday’s too.
When you work that much you don’t have time to spend money, so it piles up in your bank account.
But even though the money was good for a kid my age, I really hated the work. My entire day was spent in the sun, shade was a novelty. I was hot a sweaty from dawn until dusk, I was frequently covered in dirt or mud. My day was spent digging holes, carrying rocks, pushing a wheel barrow, and in performing tasks that were exhausting.
One day, while engaged in some of the normal back-breaking work work, I had the overwhelming thought to get a good education so I wouldn’t have to do that kind of work the rest of my life.
Here I am today running my own little business that is perhaps one of the least strenuous businesses in the world. There is really no physical exersion at all.
This last week a young man came into the studio for a visit. We began talking about summer jobs. He told me that he had tried landscaping but it hadn’t worked out for him. At first I related to his angst, but just as quickly thought of an experience I had a couple of years ago in Colorado.
It was a summer morning and I was driving down the street near my office in Arvada. I drove past a group of people replacing about a 30 foot length of asphalt. And I was shocked at where my mind went at that moment. Out of nowhere I had this strong desire to hop out of the car, grab and shovel and start working.
I have thought about that moment many times since then. I don’t really want to go back to work on a landscaping crew (I don’t think) but something inside me must long for that type of hands-on physical work. Perhaps all of us have that built in to some extent. Our ancestors going back hundreds of thousands of years had to do physical labor to survive or even create some level of comfort. And perhaps that ability or desire to perform physical labor represents safety and security from an evolutionary standpoint.
But I also think there is more. It’s the desire to create.
One of the buildings we landscaped when I was a young man is near my parent’s home. Almost everytime I drive by that building I think about my experiences working there. I think about the rock wall I helped assemble, the trees I planted, the concrete I mixed and poured, and the overall organization and beauty we added to the building. I like the fact that I can drive by and see remnants of what I did three decades ago.
When I drove past that road crew in Arvada that morning, I had two different thoughts. I thought about the hands-on physical labor, but more than that, I imagined what it would be like to drive by later in the day and admire the work. There is something energizing about looking back at the end of the day and seeing your creation.
I tend to believe that the act of creation is a human need. When I look at my day-to-day work right now, it’s the projects where I conjure something out of nothing that I really enjoy. Any day that doesn’t include something like that tends to be less fulfilling. But any day where I can point to something I built, designed or created tends to be a day of enjoyment. And it's almost always a day where I don’t really want to walk away.
I have had this discussion with a few different people in my life and it seems as though this is also a theme for others. Perhaps this is one of the keys to having a fulfilling or successful career; include the act of creation.