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A Role for Elders

This is a guest post by my friend Silver. All credit for it goes to him. — C


In Making it Through the Next Normal Claire questioned possible roles for us old folks.

One of the things we oldsters can do to help the young folks through their coming trials is to teach them that they don’t have to be high profile, high paid, high stress, famous people to have good, satisfying jobs and wonderful lives.

Mike Rowe of Dirty Jobs fame nailed this. He found that people who did those often invisible, generally dirty jobs tended to be much happier at work and at home. He cites several reasons:

  1. They felt that their work was important and valuable
  2. They could take pride in doing the job well, even if it was a simple job like pickup up roadkill or scrubbing out horrible dirty boilers.
  3. There was a natural and clearly defined boundary between work and daily living. Once you strip out of your incredibly filthy work clothes and shower, you are definitely off the clock. No one is calling the guy who picks up dead cows at midnight; they know he comes by twice a week.
  4. That natural boundary creates a work/life balance that fosters better relationships, better home life, more time for relaxation and hobbies, and so forth.

There is an acute and growing shortage in trades of all kinds. Plumbers, electricians, carpenters, auto mechanics, brick layers, and many more. These jobs take a bit of training and those with aptitude will always do better. They also pay quite well.

Construction equipment dealerships across the nation have openings for heavy equipment mechanics. These jobs have a jack of all trades aspect. You have to know engines, hydraulics, a little bit of controls and computers, and most of all be able to troubleshoot, which means observing, thinking, trying, and observing again.

Classic OODA loop stuff. These jobs start with a pretty good salary, and while they require travel for the first few years, that also means expense accounts and overtime. Someone who applies themselves will be making a comfortable six figure salary in a few years when they are ready to buy a home and start a family. By that time they are the old hand that helps the youngsters who call in from their remote locations with the toughest problems.

Data centers are exploding, and while there is a large admixture of fed-induced bubble, our society is transforming itself and that is unlikely to change. Data center operators also are jack of all trades, they need to know electric power, heavy duty cooling, controls, networking, and computers. The pay is good and the hours fairly fixed, with occasional overtime in the wee hours.

All of the big companies are struggling to fill these positions, and there have been multiple presentations at industry conferences discussing the problem and possible strategies to

People like the Wandering Monk are also a useful role model. They set their own hours, charge what they please, turn down difficult customers, decide which jobs they like and which ones they don’t. The Monk will have work even in the depth of a collapse. He might get paid in produce or chickens but he will get paid. Not everyone has the necessary skills but that is true for anything real.

I’m afraid entrepreneurship and small business ownership as role models have become grossly polluted. The hard truth is that being an entrepreneur means being an employer, and employers will always be a tiny, despised minority. There is hardly a peep of protest when a new regulation or tax is imposed upon employers.  We should be warning kids about that trap rather than telling them it is the way to happiness. It can be, for one in a thousand, but for most it is a path to bankruptcy and despair.

A retired friend of mine volunteers for a program for mentoring aspiring entrepreneurs. They tell staggering tales of entitled, ignorant, mooching kids who refuse to write a business plan but think they deserve government grants to start a web page building service or a cupcake shop. It’s not entirely their fault.  Too many “entrepreneurs” are people who dream up what is generally a foolish idea with no chance of making a profit.  They find some greater fools to part from their money, burn it up, fail, and repeat. One in a hundred survives 3 years, one in a million makes a fortune, but that one gets all the publicity.

People who have the knack and the fire in the belly will figure out HOW a business works, which is different than the trade skill.  Whether they are fixing trucks or pumping septic tanks, the ones who learn how to find and keep customers, hire and supervise employees, and save enough to buy some tools and train can build a successful business.

A successful bakery owner is rarely the best baker; they are the ones who understand how to tell that they need 25 dozen donuts today but only 14 dozen tomorrow because it is raining and a Wednesday.

You can hire young people off the street and supervise them as they mix dough, but the successful owner knows which dough to mix and how much, and how much to charge so that they sell all but one donut.

You can have a fine life as a baker without the heartache of owning a bakery. We need to help the younger folks to understand the difference between honest hard work and the tiny minority of people who are naturally cut out to run a successful business, despite the near universal prejudice and hatred awarded to employers.

There are places for factory workers and big firms; the people I see at US factories are
fairly well paid, seem happy, and are proud of what they do. The world needs doorknobs, and toilets, and bricks. Factory work is hard work and often more than a  little dirty, and those dirty jobs can produce happy people.

So maybe what we need to teach the entitled, trained to be helpless infants in colleges is that they need to get a lot more dirty every day. It not only helps in all the ways I listed above, but for those who really are smart enough and driven enough to earn STEM degrees, a summer casting porcelain toilets will remind them for the rest of their lives why it was worth the time and sacrifice to get that education.


  1. Comrade X
    Comrade X November 15, 2019 8:15 am

    The biggest problem we have today is that those “trained to be helpless infants in colleges” are going to be running this country in the future. Those with a trade will be doing the plumbing, welding, baking, etc…. but they also will be paying for the mistakes of “the trained to be helpless infants in colleges” of their own generation and also past generations.

    Silver has really hit on something, this country was founded due to the strength of the individual, if it is to survive it will be due to the strength of that same kind of individual who back in the founding hacked their living out of the land but today may be doing it with a trade surely it will not be by the collective whine of those “trained to be helpless infants in colleges”.

  2. david
    david November 15, 2019 8:52 am

    Claire, this post is oh so true. I spent 14 years getting my bachelors degree and working at a series of factory type jobs- machinist, machine assembler, barn builder, etc. Once I got the degree I moved into “professional work“ in an office environment and have been missing the clear delineation between job and personal life that punching out on the clock provided.

    For me professional work turned out to be rewarding and sometimes interesting, but tedious, boring, unstable, and fraught with issues of people disliking me because of my work style or my skill levels. I would much prefer to go back to the kind of work I used to do. it may be a fantasy, but I feel like I had more time available for ‘Life’ then. (Of course that was also before Al Gore invented the internet which seems to be gobbling up everybody’s available ‘Life-time’.)

  3. Val E. Forge
    Val E. Forge November 15, 2019 9:24 am

    Timely, thoughtful post Claire. I will share it with some young people I know.

  4. Claire
    Claire November 15, 2019 9:51 am

    All credit for this post belongs to Silver.

    I’ll make a note at the top of it to clarify that he wrote it.

  5. david
    david November 15, 2019 11:54 am

    I had noticed it wasn’t yours Claire. I meant to also type “…so true and thanks for sharing it.”, but somehow I dropped that ball. I shared it too. It’s great insight.

  6. larryarnold
    larryarnold November 15, 2019 1:03 pm

    Read somewhere, and confirmed by personal experience, that it takes three people to run a successful business:
    1. Someone to imagine and provide the product;
    2. Someone to market the product and manage the business;
    3. Someone to keep track of the money, income and outgo.

    Vanishingly few people have all three abilities.

  7. LewB
    LewB November 17, 2019 9:02 am

    Good article but I have to disagree with the quote below.

    “I’m afraid entrepreneurship and small business ownership as role models have become grossly polluted”.

    I worked as a service technician for over 20 years then decided to pursue a career in sales in the same field. After the company, I was working for was sold I lost my job at the age of 56.

    I learned the hard way that at that time no one wanted to hire someone in their late 50s.

    After a series of low paying jobs at the age of 63, I started my own insurance business. I make a good living and I am a one man show. I know many independent insurance agents who are making six figure incomes without having to hire any employees.

  8. deLaune
    deLaune November 18, 2019 3:45 am

    Great post.
    I share Silver’s ideas about satisfying work and passed it along to my boys. Both got associates degrees (for free) while attending high school and neither had any desire to go farther in “higher education.”
    My oldest, for example, started out doing commercial cleaning for a friend’s company. After a couple of years he was the operations manager.
    He decided to move to another state and got a sales job in the same industry. By paying close attention to his customers’ problems and results he gained a reputation as “the man with the answers.”
    Now he’s a consultant–he knows the business from management to repairing floor polishers.
    He did all of that in eight years, and loves what he does.

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