All In A Day’s Work

A man is recognized by what he puts into a job

By Ron Ciancutti

“Work – Thank God for the might of it, the ardor, the urge, the delight of it. Work that springs from the heart’s desire. Setting the soul and the brain on fire. Oh, what is so good as the heat of it. And what is so glad as the beat of it. And what is so kind as the stern command challenging brain and heart and hand. Work!”
--Work. A Song of Triumph, Angela Morgan


“Work is a man’s great function. He is nothing, he can do nothing, he can achieve nothing, fulfill nothing without working. If you are poor – work. If you are rich – continue working. If you are burdened with unfair responsibilities, work! If you are happy, keep right on working. Idleness gives room for doubts and fears. If disappointment comes – work. If your health is threatened – work. WHEN FAITH FALTERS – WORK. When dreams are shattered, and hope seems dead – work! Work as if your life were in peril – it really is. No matter what ails you, work! Work faithfully – work with faith. Work is the greatest remedy available for both mental and physical afflictions.”
--Work is a Blessing, James M. Cowan

I earned my bachelor’s degree in business in May 1983 and returned home to Cleveland ready to set the world on fire. I had a stylish, handsome resume, a tailored, gray pinstriped suit, shiny, black wingtip shoes, and a well-rehearsed interview style complete with selfless banter to make me appear at ease with any interviewer. However, the stack of rejection letters grew higher and higher, running about even with the bills due on the other side of my desk.

© Can Stock Photo / sgoodwin4813

© Can Stock Photo / sgoodwin4813

I re-read the rejection letters and noticed a pattern. Maybe I was reaching too high. Maybe the world wasn’t quite ready for the management superstar I thought I could be at the ripe age of 21. Maybe I needed to “earn a few stripes” as it were to validate these skills. One way or another, I needed some income. I blocked out thoughts of my peers—some of whom had elected to “take a year off and backpack through Europe (a big 1980s fad)”—and reminded myself I came from good, old-fashioned, Italian immigrant stock. Bricklayers, basement-diggers, ironworkers—these were shoulders I was standing on as I entered the American workforce.

My dad and I sat at the picnic table on a breezy summer night and cracked peanuts and drank root beer as the Cleveland Indians play-by-play bellowed through the single speaker of his transistor (in retrospect, a “perfect evening”). I said I needed to start earning some money and didn’t want him to be disappointed if the work didn’t really reflect the college skills I’d spent the last four years acquiring. He said a lot of things that night, but one stood out and has stayed with me to this day. He said, “Remember, there is never any shame in a full day’s work, no matter what it is.”

Down And Dirty
Within days, I interviewed for and quickly got a job on a road crew, working transits and levels. As loads of molten asphalt were trucked on-site and dumped into the unit that spreads the asphalt, my crew made sure the material was laid and rolled evenly to create roadways that drained properly and looked professional. It was hot, hard, labor-intensive work. The first few weeks on the job found me sleeping solidly every night from absolute exhaustion. I also dropped about 10 pounds as my body adjusted to the physical demands of the job. Most days I ate lunch off the hood of my truck, standing up, not wanting to “burn daylight” or slow the progress of the job. And, I’ll tell you this, when you stand a mile away from where you started and look back up the hill at a curving, tight, handsome stretch of road, it is a tremendous feeling of accomplishment and satisfaction. I became convinced then and believe to this day that every young man should put in some time in a job that requires intense physical labor.

You show up on the job showered and fresh. The day is clear and the air cool. Birds are beginning to chirp and murmur. Somewhere, off in the distance, a kid starts a lawnmower. You roll out a set of plans on the hood of the truck and begin to identify the challenging spots and trials ahead. Someone arrives with coffee, and the crowd of workers begins to grow. The banter starts. “Who was that girl I saw you with last night?” or “Did you see him drop that pass in the end zone?” Here comes Eddie. He throws a box of doughnuts on the hood. Someone teases him about finally spending some money and asks if he hit the lottery. He smiles and hints that life is good.

Very simply, this is the pleasure of solid, hard-working men enjoying the company of other hard-working, ethical, well-balanced men. It is an element of work, of life, of manhood and ethics.

The Payoff
If you, as a reader, honestly don’t think my awareness of what that crew was thinking and doing didn’t affect the management practices I would one day apply as a manager or even eventually come to write about as a business-consultant, then you have been missing my message for a long time. All my theories are about empowerment and how well-informed the guy with the shovel is compared to the guy in the office who never lifted the tools.

And I gained respect when my steady advancement moved me through the ranks from labor into management tiers; I had something that few other supervisors had—on-the-job credibility. I had been there, and I knew what I was talking about. I knew what problems could force a job to shut down. In the years that followed, a road-crew foreman would call me directly in the purchasing office and say, “Ronnie, truck #3 has a problem dumping, and the asphalt plant closes in two hours; I gotta get this done.” Twenty minutes later, a rental unit was ready and on-site, and the job would be completed on schedule.

The Demming theories of management dictate that there are no elevators to success. Only long-winding staircases that ensure you hit every step. The Japanese adoption of these theories in the 1970s gave companies like Honda and Toyota a lead in the auto business that is still visible.

And what is being demanded of you? Work. Plain and simple. Just work. Stick your nose in there and get it done. It fills you with pride. It positively fills your time. It avoids idle hands that lead to inappropriate behavior out of boredom. It impresses those you are near. It sends a signal. And more than anything, when you lay your head on the pillow at night, you can say to yourself, “I put in a good, full day.”

Take notice the next time you are introducing someone or telling a story about that person to see if this pattern holds true. If you don’t mention the work the fellow does, someone will certainly ask, “Well, what does this guy do? I mean what kind of work?” Because, my friends, this world judges your character by your output. What are you capable of? What have you got in the tank? What is it that defines you as a man?

The quickest answer is exemplified in the quality, quantity, and skill of what you do.

Don’t ever stop working at it.

Ron Ciancutti worked in the parks and recreation industry since he was 16 years old, covering everything from maintenance, operations, engineering, surveying, park management, design, planning, recreation, and finance. He is now retired. He holds a B.S. in Business from Bowling Green State University and an M.B.A. from Baldwin Wallace University. He is not on Facebook, but he can be reached at ron@northstarpubs.com.