David and I just spent six memorable nights in Illinois, five of them in Chicago and one in Springfield. There were many highlights of our time there, but the best part was definitely doing manual labor in the hot Chicago summer sun.
What?? Manual labor?
Yes, by far the best time we had was shoveling dirt, moving wheelbarrows full of rock, leveling sand, and moving furniture.
We arrived to Chicago on Thursday evening and stayed with the Florence family (parents of Stephanie, one of my fave people in the world right now). Over dinner we learned that Mr. Florence had been working on a construction project for the entire neighborhood by himself. Staying true to the mission of A Summer To Serve, we offered to work with him on the project for a while before we moved on.
We woke up extra early on Friday morning and worked out in the street for three hours before we had to leave for a meeting with the Board President of Support 1000 (a Chicago non-profit that gives bras to women who need them). More to come on that soon!
Anyway, after working for a while it was quickly evident that Mr. Florence has the work ethic of an ox on Red Bull. Despite being in his sixties, he outworked us all morning and continued on into the late afternoon after we left for our meeting.
On Saturday we decided to extend our stay in Chicago to work with Mr. Florence again. So instead of moving on to Springfield, we spent an extra day in Chicago and went back to the Florences for some more fun times in the sun. On Monday we worked all day outside and even moved some furniture around the house for them. It was definitely the most strenuous day of work so far on the trip.
On the car ride from Springfield to Des Moines today we discussed what our favorite part of the Illinois trip was. We both agreed it was being worked into the ground by Mr. Florence. It’s funny how the hardest days of work were the most satisfying to us.
With that said, we’ve came up with a list of some of the many benefits of manual labor.
1. Sense Of Accomplishment
Working hard feels good. It’s as simple as that.
Even though it may be a little hard while you’re doing it, afterwards there is such a great sense of accomplishment. On the days when we worked outside, we slept better, lunch and dinner tasted better, and we felt great the next day. Sore, but great inside.
2. Physical Proof
Many corporate jobs today involve interpreting facts and figures, creating spreadsheets and presentations, and sitting through pointless meetings and conference calls. When you ask someone what they did today at work, sometimes it’s hard for them to even remember.
When you build a house, a brick wall, or a fire pit though, you have physical proof of your hard work. Every time you walk into your house or sit outside by the fire, you’re reminded of the hard work that it took to build that with your bare hands. And that’s not something that people get a lot of these days.
Manual labor is hard work. At the end of each day working outside we were covered in sweat and dirt. At the very least, manual labor is a great way to get more lifting and movement into your day. We have been spending way too much time sitting (driving, writing, uploading pictures, emailing, doing interviews, relaxing) so any opportunity to get some exercise is a positive thing for us.
4. New Perspective
After the two days of working outside in the street, I developed a strange connection to construction workers. In Chicago, we jogged for a while to pick up my car from getting an oil change and we walked by some construction workers. Instead of passing them by as if they were part of the scenery like most people do, I smiled and waved to all of them. I felt an almost brotherhood like feeling to them that I can’t really explain in words, but it felt good.
And how many times have you driven by a construction site and thought, “Why are those guys just standing around? or “This construction project has been taking forever.” We learned just in a couple days how long things really take. However long you think something takes is probably a small fraction of the time that it actually takes. Construction projects require great deal of measuring and checking, if they are done right. So I’m thankful for that little bit of perspective as well.
Many people today spend 90% of their day staring at shiny rectangles. From the morning news, to their work laptop, to their smart phone, to their prime time television shows, it’s a constant stream of visual stimulation. When we were outside working in the street, there were no distractions. Just the open outdoors and the sounds of the neighborhood. It was almost a little like meditation.
There’s a popular hashtag on Twitter, #FirstWorldProblems. If you haven’t seen it, check out some of these tweets. It’s complaints like having too many dollar bills in your wallet making it too fat, having only Diet Coke when you want Coke Zero, or not having enough cereal for a full bowl. Ridiculous, but somehow people find a way to complain about life even when all of their needs are taken care of.
We have the easiest lives ever in the history of mankind.
We literally live better than the kings of ancient history.
With such easy lives that we live, a little physical discomfort is good for you. Like your father used to say, it builds character.
As we are hitting the first month of the trip, it’s already been the experience of a lifetime. To be quite honest, we’re pretty exhausted and running on empty, but every day just keeps getting better and better.
At this point I wouldn’t change a thing in the world. Except maybe some massages. Yes, definitely some massages.