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Hard Work Nation

Nothing engages our sense of national pride like “Hard Work.”  The two words sum up just about everything great about America: rugged individualism, freedom to excel, the pursuit of happiness, capitalistic opportunity, entrepreneurial resiliency.

Did I miss anything?

I like my “Hard Work” dripping raw with a side of “Go-get-‘em!” and a tall frothy glass of “can-do.”
Fills me right up.

Start talking about Hard Work and we can’t wait to tell you how we got started. That job we got so we could gas up, or pay tuition or rent or buy ramen noodles.  We’ll go on and on about it.  Let us compare our grinds so that we might determine whose nose was closer to that stone.

And how thoroughly we do honor that effort.

What lesson could possibly be more important than: The Value of Hard Work. Hell, it’s even in the Bible.  Actually, I think it makes up 75% of the American Version.

And so we teach our young people, as often as we can, the Value of Hard Work. We describe what it should look like by sharing our own first experiences:

Hot, cold, sun-burned, wind-blown, or frost-bit. We learned consistency and perseverance. We followed direction. We got up, got dirty, and got the job done.  Day after day. How those formative experiences did shape us.  The late nights cleaning tables or pushing a broom. The smell of the milk house in the morning, or hot metal, oil, and diesel in the garage at mid-day.  The growl and buzz of a saw or the flap and swish of a brush. A little imagination brings us back to the feeling of tension in our fingers and forearms as we gripped the rungs, pushed the mowers, swung the hammers, stacked the cases.

The memories are not hard to access. Indeed they’re etched sharply onto our very soul.

No matter the job, the way we religiously praise those (mostly physical, often mindless) efforts is integrally woven into the stories we tell about work and how it shapes our character, how it continues to ripple through our communities, how the ethos reflects the strength of our nation.

Legend has it “Hard Work” is an investment that pays off in (we tell each other), if not increased riches, then surely enhanced chances–and at least an empowered character.

The Work–especially early on–was not joyful. But it is the pursuit of happiness, after all, that we honor most.

So we continue to add, story by story, to the mythos: the cultural certainty that “Hard Work” will always pay off–somehow, someway–eventually.

Until then, we compare callouses and contusions, grease stains and wrist sprains.

The evidence of our efforts is recorded in our muscle memory and marked with the scars we’ve scattered across our bodies

Hard work dues are paid for with the body.

But why?

What about the mind?

How common is it that we compare:

  • The first thing of value we created?
  • The first value-added problem we solved?
  • The first time we discovered an inefficiency,
  • or learned how to repair instead of replace?
  • The first time we wrote something that convinced someone to give us a better deal or a better job.
  • The first circuit we wired,
  • or program we wrote?
  • The first time we made Work more profitable?

The stories we tell about the value of Hard Work are rich in the traditions of physical toil. But the honor we bestow upon this work is outdated—an emotional remnant of the industrial age. A time long past, when a person COULD actually pull themselves up by their own bootstraps. A time when physical labor was more valuable than today.

Solving and explaining, inventing and persuading, on the other hand, is the kind of labor that has the most value NOW.  And it’s long past time we recognize that. If we are to move forward, it is time we tell and value new stories.

Hard Work 2.0.

Mind Work.

Focused, Undistracted Work.

Deep Work.

The mark of this kind of work isn’t left on the body in the form of scars and callouses, but on the brain in the form of myelin and neural connections—invisible, but powerful.

Economies will always need strong hands and those willing to lend them, but the most rewarding jobs of today are built with strong minds.  Minds that perceive and consider. That analyze and synthesis.

Lo, the age of knowledge work is upon us.

Lend a mind.

Strong Schools, Strong Communities, Strong Economies—and vice versa.

dv1453015.jpgLast week, I attended another heart wrenching school board meeting (in Amery this time) where, yet again, people mustered their courage and voices to publically support those that nurture, teach, feed and care for our kids during the day.  I don’t teach in Amery, but I felt compelled to support those who do.

Held in an auditorium for the hundreds of people attending, the speeches to the Amery school board were honest impassioned and . . . becoming way too common.  Three years later, more fallout from Walker’s failed Act 10, another painful meeting, and another community torn apart.

The messages to the board that night all had a common theme: If there is indeed no money and you must continue to cut educator’s wages and benefits, please at least do so in a way that is respectful and empathic.  Please at least protect for these people their dignity.  Please talk with them.  Listen to them.

We know.  New laws no longer require our public education officials to do this–to talk to their employees.  But these are real people, living real lives, with real families to support and plan for.  Many are actually quite brilliant, creative and flexible—but the deep cuts combined with the punishing way they are being delivered are really hurtful and unnecessary—both financially and emotionally.  Public teachers and support staff are not monsters.  Really they are not.

As educators on the front lines, we know, as does everyone, that Wisconsin no longer values its schools.  We see it every day in the increased class sizes and workload carried by an ever-shrinking number of staff.  We know that billions have been cut from the education budget.  We know, even with a state surplus, that those dollars will never be restored.  We know school boards must continue to cut wages and benefits.   We know teaching and learning is only going to get harder in Wisconsin.  We know these things.

And we know also that it isn’t only our educators that are hurting in Wisconsin either.  As the most recent federal jobs report illustrates again, WI leads the nation in new jobless claims.

Our governor and local representatives are great at breaking unions and tearing communities apart. Terrible at creating jobs though.   This from the most recently released federal jobs report:

“The largest increases in initial claims for the week ending February 1 were in Wisconsin (+5,041), New York (+4,830), Pennsylvania (+2,448), New Jersey (+1,853), and Ohio (+1,780), while the largest decreases were in California (-9,631), Georgia (-2,558), Indiana (-2,444), Michigan (-2,411), and Florida (-1,387).”

I know . . .it was the weather.   It’s always the weather.  Or something.  It’s always something.

If we had destroyed our schools in order to create jobs, maybe that would be one thing.  I know that was the argument at the time: “Teachers and other public employees, and their unions, are the enemy–the greedy few.  Punish them.”  But it didn’t work.

All that said, I also know none of it matters.  I realize finally, especially at the local level, that we will continue to support our current representatives and their apathetic destruction of our schools and rural communities.  I know that nobody around here understands the link between strong schools and strong economies.  Strong words, maybe.  Still, I had to get them off my chest.  Because all I see in Wisconsin these days is weakness.

Other Shit Teachers Do

Hello B-Wing teachers,

I hate being the guy to go around and ask for money (really hate it), so I’m going to do it this way–via email.  Please find the white envelope labeled, “SCF Teacher Scholarship” in my box.  When you can, drop $20 in it and sign your name.

I know . . .what the hell!?  Right?  Here’s the deal:

For years, we (SCF Teachers–all of us) have provided two $500 dollar scholarships.  This is NOT a union thing.  This is a teacher thing.  In the past we have raised money for this by having chili feeds and working other such pain-in-the-butt-fundraisers.  Eventually (collectively) we decided it was just easier to each donate $20 instead of going through all the hassle.  The nice thing was that we could have this money taken right out of our checks using our union as a vehicle.

Obviously we can’t do that anymore.  We have to collect it the old fashion way.  Grovel for it.  I’ve been assigned to harass the B-Wing teachers.  So that’s the story.

I’m not going to do the face to face thing with my hand out (as I said, I hate that).  Plus I’m sore about all the $$ we are already giving for all sorts of other things yadda yadda yadda–yes, I’m a greedy bastard.   Also, I’m a coward.  So instead, I’m just going to send you regular email reminders.  This is the first one.

So, (ahem) if you please–you will find a white envelope labeled, “SCF Teacher Scholarship” in my box.  When you can, please drop $20 in it and sign your name.


Chris (Chief money groveler for B-Wing)

P.S. Jen, if you’ve already been hit up at the elementary school, you’re free to just tell me to piss off.

The Tao opportunity in Wisconsin

Once, there was a farmer. He might have lived in Wisconsin, or he might have lived in China. I don’t think it matters much. The important thing is, the dude didn’t have much money. I mean he had to plow his fields with an old horse.

One afternoon, while working in the field, the horse dropped dead. Everyone in the village said, “Total Bummer! What are you going to do?.”

The farmer said simply, “We’ll see.” He was so cool about it, that everyone in the village got together and, admiring his attitude, gave him a new horse.

Everyone’s reaction now was, “What a lucky man.”

The farmer said, “We’ll see.”

A couple days later, the new horse jumped a fence and ran off. The villagers shook their heads and said, “Dude! That’s bad luck! You must be pissed.”

The farmer smiled, saying only, “We’ll see.”

Eventually, the horse found his way home. This time everyone was like, “Whew! You must be relieved, huh?”

The farmer said, “We’ll see.”

Later in the year, the farmer’s son went out riding on the horse, fell off, and broke his leg. Everyone in the village said, “Poor fella. He’s such a good ball player. And the season just starting too!”

The farmer said, “We’ll see.”

Two days later, the army came into the village to draft new recruits. When they saw that the farmer’s son had a broken leg, they decided not to recruit him.

Everyone said, “Man, that kid really lucked out! We totally did NOT see that coming!”

The farmer smiled again – and said “We’ll see.”

– Chinese Parable, as told by Eckhart Tolle (and then tweaked a bit by Chris Wondra)

Hang in there everyone! Try to remember, it’s not the losses or wins that you experience (or perceive that you experience) that matter–it’s how you respond to them.

Be patient. Have faith. Love each other.


–Lewis Carroll

“There is no use trying,” said Alice; “one can’t believe impossible things.”

“I dare say you haven’t had much practice,” said the Queen.  “When I was your age, I always did it for half an hour a day.   Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”