Growth vs Completion: Labors in Patience

Photo credit: Sam Schooler

Recently my cousin and I were toiling beneath the unrelenting Florida sunshine, immensely parched even though the very air we were huffing felt saturated. My cousin is a landscape architect, a damn good one in my opinion, and we were in the throes of an installation around the perimeter of a client’s house. My well-seasoned cousin was showing me, a novice in the landscaping realm, those proverbial ropes. Make no mistake, I’m very acquainted with dirt and drudgery but more so of the construction kind. I’ve restored antiques cars and helped build some houses so yeah, I wear the thin, grimy outline on my cuticles as a badge of pride (much to the vexation of my mother at the supper table). Still, as the heat was at it’s zenith, so then was my composure as I was digging through all manner of debris and hidden stone hell-bent on slowing me down. We still had tomorrow’s maintenance to worry about and why couldn’t this work all be done at once? Murmurings of a sun-whipped worker to be sure, but it gave me pause: I’d worked hard before but why did I lack the patience for this type of work?

Normally I keep my emotional cards pretty close to my chest but that is solely contingent upon an air-conditioned environment. Outside in the muggy grossness, my cousin easily noticed the scowl I wore with each shovelful of dirt I tossed and casually mentioned how much he enjoyed this aspect of the job. Its as if this enthusiasm was supposed to produce some magical breeze of empathy from my sweat-drenched soul. Still, I pondered his statement for a minute trying to work out why I was so adverse to this type of work: planting flowers and grasses, the slow growth, incremental progress. My face softened — partially due to minor heatstroke — but mostly due to my sudden internalization which was that I enjoy singular projects of immediate permanence and scale. I enjoy a different type of work.

See, my cousin enjoys the sum total of a project; he sees it grow and transform before his eyes to create a vibrant new landscape. I’m a fan of the immediate satisfaction of completion; I’ve put my last nail in or paint stroke on this present fixture so let’s move on to the next list item. I am the lattice work to his climbing wisteria.

I think how you prefer your work (and steak — different article) can say a lot about how you approach to things. Labor as a preference goes unexamined which I think can lead to a lot of frustration in an employer/employee relationship. Whether physical or mental, repetitive or varying, people works differently. It’s logical, though not accurate, to think that patience (or the lack thereof) can be pinned directly onto the type of work that we select. For example, I prefer jobs with a single, fixed goal seen to completion with little to no chance of revisiting it outside of repair. This is so any future tasks won’t be interrupted. Consider my cousin’s bottom-up approach with multiple goals to be accomplished in a more relaxed order. It’d be easy from a surface view to classify us as impatient and patient, respectively. I posit that my cousin and I both have similar amounts of patience but it’s structured in a way to facilitate efforts on an individualized level. Employers take note; working smarter not harder applies here.

Shoveling dirt and hamming a nail may be synonymous to some. Work is work is work in their mind. For those unlucky few who have indecision where their perspiration is spent, scurry for some shade and give it a think. You may be surprised to find that murky mind could work better in a different environment or with a different task. It could also just be from heat exhaustion in which you need fluids immediately.

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