Been meaning to comment on a book I finished a while back, Matthew Crawford’s “Shop Class As Soulcraft”. It’s a pretty well-written examination of what work means and how contrary to our natures most modern jobs are.
It shares some insights with Daniel Pink’s “Drive” and his talk on what motivates us. One of those ideas it shares is the idea of people needing a feeling of autonomy in order to be happy. But it brings up another point which I think a lot of people miss.
Keep in mind we’re not talking about fine-arts woodworkers, or anything like that. Crawford stays pretty centered on what we’d call the “trades”. And he brings up an interesting point about the lack of objective standards to which most people can be held in their work.
In trades work, things are either done correctly, or they are not. The wall is either plumb, or it is crooked. The joint leaks, or it doesn’t. The weld is done well, or it is weak. And if something is done especially skillfully, you can see that too.
Compare that to how most of us work these days. We don’t really have a way of measuring what we do to give us the bare satisfaction of knowing it is at least “right” to some extent. Employees are measured against metrics they didn’t have any input in. Bosses come and go, and most of how we are rewarded and punished is pretty arbitrary.
Even “ideas” people face this. We can launch a marketing campaign, but who knows if it will work? You paint a beautiful picture, but will it connect with a buyer? You can write a blog post or a book, but will anyone respond to your ideas?
This is why I think it feels so good when we stop and do something as simple as fixing something around the house or cleaning and painting something up. We have improved our environment in a way that is immediately noticeable. We’ve put a little order back into a world that tends to the chaotic.
And in our abstract symbolic existence, it feels good to interact with things that don’t depend on our interpretation of them. The garage door you fix or the jalopy you restore will probably do you more good in the long run than all your Facebook friends and Twitter followers combined.