A Few More Things I’ve Learned in my Time as a Tradesman

Anthony Bourdain has a great quote that floats around the internet from time to time, saying how you can tell a lot about a person who has worked in a restaurant. There are, he goes on to say, a lot of soft skills that kitchen experience teaches a person, like the ability to accept criticism, to be punctual, to handle the dual role of servant and provider and all the subtle dynamics that entails.

Put a pin in that for a moment, and bear with me.

Earlier this year, I continued a recent reading binge by tearing through Musashi Miyamoto’s ‘Book of Five Rings.’ I’d had it recommended to me for years, told that it was a tome of ancient teachings and great wisdom and all the rest, blah, blah, blah. What I found was that, so much more, and not quite that at all – all at once. In it, the author states pretty clearly that the book you’re holding is a manual for his particular view on swordfighting, and it stays very true to that.

But one thing that he emphasizes in the Ring of Earth (if I remember right; don’t take me to court over that) is how alike all things are. He draws the distinction in terms of weapons, but extends the principle throughout: a sword may seem heavy and unweildy at first, but it’s that way for everyone; a bow may seem difficut to pull at first, but everyone gets stronger with time and practice; even a halberd is complex and tricky, but with training one learns the in’s and out’s. The point being that that trend continues for everything: pottery, painting, serving food, making shoes, carpentry – everything. Whenever you’re new at something, it seems difficult and nebulous, but the more you immerse yourself in it and learn about it then the more you are able to navigate it; and the more you realize that’s what everyone in the world does with everything. The only thing that separates you from an expert (or a novice from a master, in other words) is time and devotion of study.

Coming back to my point with Bourdain, there’s a TON of sh*t you pick up working with folks in the trades, some of it I’ve touched on before, and not all of it is as direct as how to cut a miter or fit a stud. There are a number of valuable soft skills and observations that come with it, and here are what I think are a couple of the highlights.

  1. You learn to tell the difference between a joke that has venom in it, and one that doesn’t.
  2. You learn to take pride in your work, if for no other reason than the things people will say about it when you don’t.
  3. When you see someone’s work around town and you get that “Hey, I know that guy” mental ping, it comes with a reminder that we’re all in this together. Sometimes we forget that our cities are just collections of people that work somewhere.
  4. (I’ve done this for years, but) Talk about people like they’re standing behind you. Keeps you considerate, and bad gas gets around.
  5. Patience pays off. It just might take a while.
  6. That said, swearing makes you stronger. Use that power.

Anyway, thanks for letting me rant. Get back to your day.

Ciao.