In Search of Simpler Things
Live with yourself long enough, and you learn a few things. For instance, I learned that I like digging holes.
One of the most satisfying jobs I ever had was a summer back when I was in college. My job was digging holes so someone (who was paid a lot more than me) could inspect a gas pipeline. Every morning, my supervisor would drop me off in the middle of a farmer’s field with nothing but a shovel and a lunch kit. My instructions were simple:
1. Find where the pipeline was buried (which I did by witching, if you’re really interested. And yes, it worked for me.)
2. Dig a hole big enough that a section of the pipeline (which was generally four to six feet underground) was exposed with 12 inches of clearance all the way around.
3. Try to keep the farmer’s cows from falling in the hole.
That was it. There was no number 4 on the list. Even number 3 was optional, depending on the prevalence of cattle in the vicinity. At the end of the day, my supervisor would pick me up and I’d go home.
I loved it. And I loved it because:
- You can only dig one hole at a time. This essentially eliminated workplace stress.
- Cows are a good audience. I got very little negative feedback.
- It was virtually impossible to take your work home with you.
- Shovels need little or no IT support. They pretty much always work as expected.
- At the end of the day, you could see what you had done and know you were entirely responsible for it. Holes typically have no project managers, key stakeholders or requirements for client input.
That was a simpler time. My current vocation shares almost nothing with digging holes. A lot of times, it feels like I cast my work to the four winds and hope that the Internet gods are smiling that day. My fate often is tied up in factors beyond my immediate control. I can do my job to the best of my ability and things can go sideways because Google tweaked an algorithm, the economy went into a tailspin, or my client’s customers just don’t feel like buying anything that day. No matter – I still have to answer for it.
Internet marketing actually has a lot more in common with another vocation of my childhood: farming. A farmer can do everything right and still get hailed out. In these types of careers -- farming, marketing, running pretty much any type of company -- you find yourself spending an inordinate amount of time worrying about crap you can do absolutely nothing about. You feel disconnected from the controls of your own destiny. I don’t much care for that feeling. That’s one reason why I never became a farmer.
I’m not sure if I’ll ever give up Internet marketing and go back to digging holes. I suspect not. For one thing, as much as my mind yearns for the simplicity of a shovel, I’m not sure my back is on board with the idea. For another, I’m pretty sure digging holes doesn’t pay very well.
But I can tell you one thing: Next to digging holes, my next favorite job is landscaping. And I’m not talking about planting flowers and pulling the odd weed. I’m talking about moving huge mounds of topsoil or crushed rocks from my driveway to the back yard by wheelbarrow. Or -- my latest hobby -- building retaining walls with 80-pound concrete blocks.
My neighbors think I’m absolutely mad. But concrete walls don’t much care what Google is planning for their next update or if people are in a buying mood this week. They just stay where you put them.
I like that.