April 19, 2023

Letting Go of Hustle Culture

We have all heard the slogans and catchphrases associated with the blue collar industries. “Dirty hands, clean money. Sleep when you are dead. Blue collar hustle. My hands look like this, so that hers can look like this.” Do not get me wrong, I love the passion, I love the work ethic, I love the sentiment, but we need to convey and measure our worth from a different perspective. A more valuable angle. A stance that supports success through professionalism, systems, and talent rather than how many hours we work in a day, how badly we beat up our bodies, how we are uneducated, or how tough we are. We do not need to prove our self worth by differentiating ourselves from white collar workers or the path they chose in life. We have talent, skills, drive, and discipline that is unique to what we do, and we should celebrate that in a manner that creates value through ability and knowledge rather than calluses and lack of sleep. 

Demanding respect for the trades begins and ends with us. If we create an image and narrative that portrays us as uneducated brutes, charging a premium for grunt work that most people are not willing to do; we are shooting ourselves in the foot. How are we promoting our worth and our experience if we are advocating that our bumps and bruises are the only thing that differentiates us from the rest of society? Why are we comparing ourselves to white collar professionals? The hustle and grind mentality that celebrates 12-14 hour workdays is no way to bring value to our trades and future generations. We should focus more on the skills we possess, the knowledge we have accrued, and the commitment to honing our craft. 

I started my business when I was 23 years old. I worked like a dog until I was 35 years old. I thrived on stress, anxiety, deadlines, physical strength, and lack of sleep. I believed my worth was dictated by my ability to out-work others, to out-learn others, and to press when I was tired/run down, both physically and mentally. I was proud of this. It was my badge of honor. I celebrated this and promoted this to my friends, acquaintances, social following, and customers. There was no greater compliment than, “you guys work long days.” That was who I was and how I differentiated myself. In hindsight I was compensating for inefficiencies, incorrect pricing, poor marketing, and lack of value through hard work and grit. The cornerstones of our industry. My dirty hands were prolonging the struggles and promoting a perceived value through physical suffering rather than talents and exclusivity. Clean money is a hoax!

I believe that if we want to create long term success and a lucrative career path for generations to come, we must focus more on our offerings, skills, talents, and professionalism. This is not to say that we are not proud of our blue collar heritage and that our calluses and cuts are not indicative of our hard work, but we must be defined by more than blood, sweat, and tears. We must be more dynamic than grit alone. We must create worth by our ability to perform specific tasks and trades that require skill and intelligence rather than muscle. If hard work and mental strain is all that it takes to be a successful contractor, then we are doing a disservice to ourselves. 

Consider the scenario below:

Would you rather have your car or truck repaired by someone who has years of experience and a comprehensive understanding of your vehicle, who can properly diagnose the problem through knowledge and technology, or someone who simply gets it done by working hard and pounding their head against a wall while grinding it out? The former will throw less parts at the car, require less time, and more than likely fix it the first time through rather than the latter, who makes up for their inadequate skill set by working through lunch, staying late, and working twice as many hours on the same job. The former markets themselves as a white glove service, with a quick turnaround, who maintains schedule, and comes in on budget. They are focusing on professionalism and charge a premium for this. The latter markets themselves as someone whose hands are rough, clothing is filthy, boots are broken in, and has learned the hard way through struggles and long days and does not charge enough. I want to ensure everyone understands that I am not passing judgment in this scenario. I understand that everyone is different and that every situation is unique, but I believe if we all work towards promoting our services with more integrity, the entire industry will benefit.

There is no right or wrong in the above scenario. Each individual is doing their best, but when I look at it from a point of attraction or retention for generations to come, I feel the technician who offers a more professional service has a better survival rate. Consider walking in for an interview or taking a class trip to visit these shops on career day. Do you feel young students would be more apt to work for the tightly run shop or the hustle and grind shop? By creating an environment that promotes skill, talent, exclusivity, and professionalism you are demanding a level of respect from your patrons. They can see that not only do you have the skillset, but you have invested in technology, training, and tooling that cannot be offset by hard work alone. You must possess the knowledge and skill, but that is only one part of the equation. If I were a young man looking to become an auto technician, I would lean towards the more professional looking shop. This shop will be more likely to offer a more professional working experience with growth opportunities, training, adequate pay, and more structure. 

I again want to reiterate that I am not knocking the people who are getting up and busting their stones to survive. I respect the hustle and commitment. The guy with the beat up truck and old tools may do better work than the guy with the brand new truck and high end tools, but that is not necessarily my point here. My point is that if we promote integrity, knowledge, professionalism, and carry ourselves in a way that demands respect, we are setting up future generations for success. If all we have to offer to our patrons is work ethic, we are putting a cap on our potential. If we prove that we are professionals running a business with formal training, systems, processes, skill, talent, overheard, and knowledge, making money through efficiencies rather than hustle; we will be in a position to not only charge more but pay more. If all we can offer is that we have the ability to put in 12 hour days at an 8 hour rate, then we lose the respect of our patrons. 

As an industry we need to create boundaries, systems, exclusivity, and demand respect. We need to take heed of larger businesses who have hours of operation, policies, minimum dress codes, formal training. Our barrier to entry need not be enticing due to a lack of educational requirements, because you can wear what you want to work, because you will be paid hourly, or because you eat what you kill. We need to create an environment and image that makes people understand how much training, effort, skill, knowledge, and commitment it takes to perform and execute at the level we do. We need future generations to be proud of their skillset rather than their ability to work long hours without much sleep. We need to reduce the disparity between blue and white collar. If we continue to celebrate our blue collar heritage as being a way to stick it to the man, then we will fall by the same sword. If we begin to promote ourselves as a respectable industry and a mandatory pillar of every community and economy as we did one-hundred years ago, we will be able to attract the necessary talent moving forward. We will be able to be compensated for our knowledge and skill rather than our guts. We will be respected and valued. We can be proud of our calluses, but they will not be what defines us.

- Tyler Grace