I found a time portal at Sam’s Club. The squeaky concrete, the new rubber smell, walls of tires, the muffled sound of air tools hammering against lug nuts from behind thick glass—it took me back in time.
The time portal let me see myself at 22, lifting a wheel, struggling under its weight to attach it to a car. Behind me was an experienced mechanic who had mastered the heavier machinery. He worked with skill, with a quickness that hid the forces he was wielding, making the power required to rip tires from rims and instantly inflate flat tires look effortless. He taught the process to me, mentored me, scared me with stories of decapitation that resulted from workers who didn’t respect the tools.
When you watch your tires being installed from the waiting room you only see the part of the job where the crew is performing a synchronized routine that gets your car in and out as quickly as possible. What you don’t see is the down time. This is the real reason we worked so hard. Once the cars are out of the garage there’s nothing to do.
That was the goal of work, to be done working.
With nothing to do you shoot the breeze. When the garage was empty I listened to amazing stories about drugs, prison, sexual conquests, and massive alcohol consumption. I don’t endorse locker room talk, but you can’t deny its ability to pass the dull hours.
My time travel was interrupted when I accidentally made eye contact with the man working on my car. I gave him a nod and he came out to update me on the progress of my tires. He explained that it was taking longer than normal because the fastest worker was taking a cigarette break. This excuse matched my experience. One skilled worker typically does a disproportionate amount of the work compared to inexperienced teammates.
What if this could be quantified? Imagine a spectrum where the most efficient workers, the people who have mastered their skills are at the very top. At the bottom are the people who, for whatever reason, don’t produce. Now recall the people you have worked with and match them up on this spectrum. What separates the most productive from the inefficient? A clue might be the locker room talk.
For some people the goal of work is to be done working. Like minions, when their queue is empty they are free to shoot the breeze, to fill the dull hours with locker room talk that recounts tales of alcohol consumption and sexual conquest.
For others the work is a goal in itself. Their locker room talk, if there is any at all, is connected to the work. These people become our mentors. They work with skill, with a quickness that hides the forces they are wielding. They make powerful maneuvers look effortless. They are the teachers who help us elevate our skills, they show us that the work is never done, there is always more to learn, that the more you look the more you see. If you are lucky enough to work with a someone like that, don’t take it for granted.
Thanks for reading. Remember to check your tire pressure, and don’t forget to come back next Saturday for more locker room talk. Stay creative.