What the Tech? Come for the Fireworks, Stay for the People

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By Jim Knapp


Why do you do what you do?   It isn’t just for the money.  A career in the trades isn’t the only one out there that pays money.  You could have chosen to sell speed boats, or become a statistician or a sharpshooter for the military.  Heaven knows you don’t do it for the long hours.  In my case I thought it was a combination of these things: I love to scope out a task and make the necessary plans to execute it.  There is fun in the planning, there is fun in the work, and there is a good feeling when you look back and see what a day's work can accomplish…...not to mention the constant learning that the job requires and the cool tools.  

All that fun aside, if everyone vanished from the face of the earth tonight and I was left by myself, what would I be doing with my days?  I know it wouldn’t be balancing boiler loops, or refinishing bathrooms or installing subpanels.  I don’t enjoy it that much!  Even studying the latest edition of the NFPA codes might not seem worthwhile.  No, there is a deeper “why” here.  The planning and designing and executing, as enjoyable as they are, are the how of the job.  The why is so much deeper.  The elemental things that all of us want, other than food, air and water, are to be safe, to belong and to do something that matters.  The why is other people; our associates and our customers.  We want to know that we are safe (meaning supported by our associates and our customers) in our job, we want to feel like a member of a group (our tribe - workmates, customers and homemates) and we want to feel like we are making a difference (contributing to our families, our job, our customers).

There is something about this explanation of the why of what we do that rings true to me.  As much as I enjoy the planning and execution of work, I agree with the premise that these are merely the how of what makes us do what we do.  This little twist in understanding what motivates our work life can have incredible consequences.  If the root motivation is making a difference and helping people, then that extra time it takes to explain something to a customer is suddenly more enjoyable.  Or, staying a little longer on the job to make adjustments to equipment has a value and offers some satisfaction beyond just getting done.  Personally, I have found the give and take with customers and associates became more satisfying and enjoyable once I started thinking of them as an end in themselves rather than a means to completing a task.

This understanding of motivation can be even more rewarding if you are a company owner, or a supervisor.  Making employees and customers feel safe and valued and being inclusive with them makes you feel like you are making a difference that improves others’ lives.  That’s a pretty big reward.
I came for the science and the learning (fireworks), but I’m staying for the people.



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