work mumbo jumbo

Don’t think the readers of this blog need a definition of what “work” means.  Sure, we can like it or hate it or anything in between.  Very few ever love it (talking degrees of being enamored with concept of making a living).

A dear friend of mine (younger than I) from San Francisco retired from work about 10 years ago.  He said that work was over-rated and fortunately for him, he was able to set himself up to do what he wanted.  He never lacks for something productive to do, but he is free to do what he wants, when he wants.  Mostly, he studies, paints, and works on projects which, in themselves, are productive, fulfilling and contribute to society in some way.

Most of us don’t have the luxury of simply doing whatever we want during decades of prime (life) time.  Or, we’ve chosen a lifestyle which many need constant self-support (work).  In most developed countries, we also have the choice to work as much as we want (given work is available).  Organizations are replete with people working all kinds of crazy hours in their drive of upward mobility (early retirement from work).  I’ve seen them and worked with them.  Maybe even been one of them.  Working all hours, even seven days a week.

But if we work too much, are we exploiting ourselves?  That may depend, in part, on how smart we work.  What might take one person an hour to dig a hole could take another five to dig the same hole.  And it may have taken that one five hours because it simply took her that long or that she was digging the hole while texting, updating twitter & Facebook, and chatting.

The subject of exploited workers has been around for generations.  Maybe longer.  We’ve generated unions and a gamut of rules & regulations to protect ourselves from ourselves.  We’ve even started imposing rules for work we have done by others (developing countries).

About 15 years ago several large brands were being accused of working with  “sweatshops” to make clothes cheap.  Certain human rights advocates would seek out examples of factory workers in foreign countries ‘exploited’ as proof that those brands were working abroad underhandedly.  (Hence our clothes should really cost more?).

All big apparel brands, as well as other industries, quickly put in place ‘human rights’ policies for factories where production was placed (Vendor Compliance Policies).

It was not that the human rights advocates cared so much about foreign workers.  They had another agenda.  And it certainly wasn’t (and isn’t) that larger brands care so much about foreign workers.  They have a reputation to protect.

We tell factories who’s workers work longer than 60 hours per week or have kids working less 16 years old, we won’t do business with them.  Those factories are then relegated to doing business with lesser known brands who don’t have compliance policies.

At the age of 13, I had a newspaper route.  For two years I worked that route seven days a week.  Granted, it was part-time, but it was work, and work I was good at and work that paid me.  I remember being happy I had that job.  It enabled me to buy or save for things I’d otherwise not have.  It also taught me early money management.  Besides delivering the paper, I had to collect the money from most of those who received the paper.  Gradually, I convinced them to pay the paper company directly so I wouldn’t need to waste time trying to collect from them.  I had to settle with the newspaper company anyhow, so it was easier to simply pick up a check less the cost of the papers.

During those years in summer or winter, there were always people wanting to hire a 13 or 14 year old to mow lawns or shovel snow.  Mutually agreed upon, both parties happy.  It amazed me that more kids weren’t out there doing that work.  There was never any lack of it when you looked.

In our country, we make exceptions for children (under 16?) to work when it suits us.  The entertainment, marketing, and agriculture industries are full of working kids.  We’ve just determined that certain industries are not good for ‘under age’ work and others are fine.  Smart.

When I was in Mexico reviewing factories, there were some who seasonally let mothers bring their kids to work (off school season).  To earn extra money, the kids (13/14/15) would do light jobs like trimming.  Everyone was happy.  But we wouldn’t work with them because it went against our rules.  We can let kids pick strawberries 12 hours a day but having the same age kids trim garments in a foreign country for much less time is an image we can’t tolerate.

At age 15, below our supposed legal age, I was hired as an Office Boy for a Mutual Funds Broker.  I was thrilled.  Learned what mutual funds were about, the likes of  Oppenheimer, Dreyfus, T. Rowe Price.  The guy who hired me taught me a few valuable early lessons, like always making your signature the same.

When working in the Middle East for a few years, one of the challenges was growing a business while maintaining our company’s compliance guidelines.  Most all the workers were contracted from other countries and lived in dorms at the factory sites (Pakistani/Indian men or Sri Lanka/Chinese women).  Given the chance to work a couple of extra hours a day or go to their dorm room and do nothing, they always wanted to work.  It was overtime pay and they were only too happy to send the money home.  We had to tell them that the International Standard work week was determined to be 60 hours per week.  Sorry factory workers, even though you want to work more and would be better off doing so, and we can in our country, we can’t let you least someone puts this in our local news and distorts the story in an effort to tarnish our image.

When I was between years at college one year, I worked at RCA pulling TV tubes off an assembly line (pre flat).  It was delicate work as the tubes imploded every so often.  Still, when asked if I wanted to pull double shifts, I always did.  The money was worth it.  I could and I did.  No one minded that I worked 16 hours per day during certain weeks, least of all me.  I agreed and they compensated me as agreed.

It’s easy to measure smart when work is objectively measured in output, performance, results, or delivering.  Whether it’s number of surgical procedures, billable hours, mortgages sold, or garments sewn per hour, results can measure a degree of smartness.

I don’t know where I’m going with this post.  It’s just some mumbo jumbo.  And if so, I must not working enough.  Certainly not smart.  Or maybe it’s a note to self saying how much I appreciate the ability to work, even though I’ve got to deal with an ugly neck scar and difficult speech at times.  Still, it’s so good to have the freedom to be productive.  And the ability.  And I can do that for as many smart hours in a day as I’d like.  For that, I’m eternally grateful.

The trick is working smart.  But since this is mumbo jumbo, maybe not working smart could still end up being smart.  If that’s the case, then there’s no mumbo jumbo.

2 thoughts on “work mumbo jumbo

  1. Anonymous

    Fred: A worthy rant and one you should share with your young nieces and nephews to permit them to receive what you did from the money manager. Me? I enjoyed your perspective but it’s a little late to make mid-course corrections having passed mid-course some time ago. However, always worth stopping and thinking about how fortunate we are to have work to do in this economy. And you provoked that though for certain. Hope eating and swallowing is improving, and that the swelling is much improved. Best, swjr


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