It is said that it is darkest just before dawn. The path to the future is illuminated, we just need to know where to look.
Lately I have been hearing a lot of speculation around how things will shape up when we turn the corner on the current crisis and move on to the next version of whatever life and business are going to look like. The most optimistic among us suggest that we’ll grasp the lessons we’ve learned and take a step up to a more responsible, more balanced approach in our work and in our daily activities, that we’ll find something worthwhile to hold onto and carry forward.
Others are less hopeful, perhaps even cynical, because experience has repeatedly shown us that once an immediate threat or challenge has been put to rest the most common human response is to just want things to return to the way they were before, as quickly and painlessly as possible. We’ve watched it happen following natural and manmade disasters, armed conflicts, economic implosions, and, yes, pandemics as well.
It was the summer of 1984 (you can do the arithmetic if you feel the urge) and we were framing houses for a production builder out of California. We were definitely the smallest, slowest crew in the subdivision and would never really hope to make a good living at production framing but we were highly meticulous and reliable so the company used us to build their new models that summer so they could iron out the kinks before offering them to buyers.
Late on a Friday afternoon another framing contractor pulled up in front of our site just as we were closing down for the day and offered to give me several buckets of free joist hangers and other familiar hardware that he had no further use for. He explained that he was moving on from the current situation because, once again, he was having to make a choice this week between paying his crew, the insurance premium or the tax man.
I accepted his offer and we took the opportunity to discuss the state of the industry and the ups and downs that we all had to ride through as we looked for ways to be successful and have some stability in such a crazy and frustrating line of work. Somebody suggested that we just needed a million dollars and we wouldn’t have to worry about it anymore. Note that this was at a time when a million was still a big number.
We took turns speculating what each of us would do with the money and when it was the other framer’s turn to respond he said, “I’d just keep framing houses until it was all gone and then find another place to start over again.” We all shared a laugh but later the deeper message of his words began to sink it.
He wasn’t simply expressing his passion for the work that he loved doing. In a larger sense he was sharing that no matter how many “last” Fridays he had to go through he wasn’t interested in changing how he went about conducting his business. As long as he could find work doing what he enjoyed the most he was willing to endure the pain, no matter how many times the outcome repeated itself.
The lesson here is that, like the departing framer, we are all going to be faced with choices once we emerge from this particularly dark and uncertain time. In spite of these dire circumstances, we have been given an opportunity to step back, take a deep breath and a hard look at ourselves, and decide if we only want to get back to the way things were before, or maybe, just maybe, aspire to something better.
Image by Levi Villarreal from Pixabay