Mastery, and My Plumber


Mastery, and My Plumber

It’s strange what having a blog does to the mind.

It’s now 3:21 am and I’m wide awake with a blog on the mind. In case you’re new to blogging, no, it doesn’t mean anything illegal, immoral or fattening. This has more to do with having a need to write, and for me, blogging fills the space between having a swirl of thoughts buzzing around in my head, and some end-product like a white paper or published article.

The thoughts I had in mind came from 2 meetings I had on consecutive days this week, both of which went better than I thought they would.

One was a workshop with some managers, and the other was a speech. In both cases, I was the one in the front of the room with the PowerPoint presentation. One audience had about 20 people, while the other had about 200.

In both cases I entered that elusive “zone” in which I found myself completely enjoying what I was doing. Time seemed to fly. My shoulder, which includes a recently dislocated collar bone, stopped hurting. I was accompanied by 2 of my best friends in life, a consultant and my wife. One event was in Barbados and the other was in Jamaica (I did a lot of flying to attend the two.) They were very different in design also, with one designed as a facilitated workshop lasting over 5 hours with a client, and the other being a pure speech given in about 35 minutes to the Jamaica Customer Service Association’s (JCSA’s ) annual conference.

In both cases I used ideas that are presented in my blog. They were thrown out into the world in this space as infant thoughts, and then grew into adolescence in subsequent entries before being tried on live human beings.

I felt a feeling of what I can only call mastery.

Which brings me to my plumber….

My plumber is someone that I knew as a teenager, from my days attending Mona Baptist Church. He was called in by my mother (who happens to be my landlady) to fix a bath-tub leak and a toilet that would not stop running.

After he had done the repairs, we asked whether or not he had a replacement tip for the faucet in the kitchen. It seems that the prior tenants, in their desire to leave with as little as possible while taking as much as possible, seemed to have made off with the tip of the faucet that regulates the water flow. The result is a constant and too-strong flow of water that wets the unsuspecting user, frequently with water that is uncomfortably hot.

Well, as we’d say in Jamaica, “who ask me fi ask him about dat?”

He responded with a lengthy lecture on the need to replace the spout also, because they do not sell the tip separately. Furthermore, he informed us that we had what I’ll call “the Briggston Company A Type” (the true name was lost as soon as it was said.) that was brought to Jamaica in the 1960’s and he used to get it then from Mr. Bowen on King Street, and he in turn brought it to Jamaica at my plumber’s request, which he used to do from time to time based on unusual needs. Furthermore, this maker had a particular seal at the bottom of the spout that was superior, so over time this became the most popular faucet in Jamaica.

(I am clearly not doing justice to the complexity of the subject, and this I say without irony.)

He clearly knew his stuff.

And he truly wanted me to see the world that he sees: I see tip-less faucet, and he sees a world behind that faucet that comes from being someone who loves what he does.

Yesterday while I was preparing to give my JCSA speech my wife realized that she knew the woman sitting next to her.

Actually, it was the woman who recognized us, when we didn’t. She asked us if we came into the HiLo supermarket at Manor Park and we said yes, we did. Then it clicked. She remembered us from a 3 minute interaction in which my wife asked her what the appropriate tip would be for the fellows who take the groceries to the car (just as they do in some places in Florida, but not in the N.E. USA.) She remembered us from then, and while we were laughing at the coincidence I told her that her particular HiLo was the cleanest supermarket and best laid out I’d been in since I’ve returned to Jamaica.

She took the compliment in stride, and without batting an eyelid she asked: “Is there anything you’d like to see us improve?”

I was taken aback. She repeated the question a few times to make sure that I was not just stupid, but the truth was that I could not think of a single thing.

My barber is another one… he loves what he does enough to have left a secure job at the top-rated barber in Kingston (Upper Cuts) to open his own shop just across the street from me. His place is impeccable, incidentally. He, of course, always looks sharp.

And he put me on to a lady who sells replacement parts for my own clipper, which I sorely needed at the time.

My plumber. The HiLo lady. The barber across the street.

They are all people who love what they are doing, and relish the challenge of it, and seeking to master their own corner of the universe.

None of them is rich from what I could tell (my plumber must take a bus to get around town.)

Yet, I’ve worked in corporations with people who earn hundreds of thousands (maybe even millions) who hate what they do, and have convinced themselves that they cannot stop doing it. And there are a LOT more people like that than there are masters.

A recent survey in the U.S. showed that some 40%+ of employees are “doing just enough work to keep their jobs.”

But this blog isn’t about them, it’s about the few who dare to fall in love with what they do for a living. They do so in spite of what the cynics around them have to say. They seek out ways and means to fall in love over and over again with their work, by continually expanding their knowledge, broadening their experience and trying out new ideas.

I’m aspiring to have more and more of these masters in my life. They are not only more skilled than their counterparts, but they are likely to open up a sizeable gap over others who are not so in love with what they do.

In reflecting on the last few days, I realized that I could only deliver the workshop I gave to my client and the speech I gave yesterday because of the following truths: the material for the workshop was developed and created by me over 7 years ago, and I’ve been practicing it diligently since then by delivering it repeatedly.

Also, yesterday’s talk wove together threads that I’ve been building up in this blog since I first started blogging early this year. I didn’t realize this at the time, but blogging is addictive – the more I write, the more I want to write. The more ideas I share with you, The Reader, the more ideas come.

And, it took hours of blogging to develop the ideas into a decent speech in which I would have something different to say.

So here is what I’ve learned – the joy of mastery is available now, and at any moment, by developing a love relationship with our chosen work. The tangible and visible fruits, however, take time to come.

So here’s the deal: do what you love, because it beats the alternatives.

Do it better each day, because it makes things more interesting than just keeping them all the same. The hard part is keeping one’s eyes open long enough to see the longer term rewards, especially when they actually may not come. After all, there are absolutely no guarantees in life, and tomorrow October 8th, 2005 may be a reality for you, but not for me.

But being in love with one’s work, and life, may not be a bad way to spend a penultimate day.