I spent a 1.5 years of my life working at a printing press to help pay for my Master’s degree. While the Master’s degree in itself was educational, working in a blue collar job taught me a lot more about life. I am sharing my top three lessons here.
Professionalism and love for your work
I learnt about professionalism and respect for work from a guy named Eddie. Eddie was an African American guy who spent every waking moment of the weekend with a drink in his hand. Come Monday and you would see him working his socks off and giving it his all. Nobody ran the Heidelberg press like Eddie and got 3 colour prints executed as perfectly. He took a lot of pride in the fact that all posters on campus came from his work. In a small way, he had a hand in the campus looking bright and colourful at all times. Eddie taught me that you put a personal stamp embossed in everything you produce whether it is a gigantic Heidelberg press or a laptop, whether it is a poster or a ppt.
Listening is the key
Randall was one of our floor supervisors who barely studied and dropped out of college while he was young. He was the one who kept the shop floor going and in many ways was the man behind most orders. Randall dealt with a wide audience (Professors to students to office staff) who usually had a jumbled set of requirements. I observed how he would patiently hear them out and systematically tailor the right set of questions based on the audience and put every one of them at ease around their order. He would then pour his heart and soul into every job whether it was sorting letters, printing class notes, mailing envelopes or getting the right designs in place. In my next stint in a consulting company, I saw various colleagues from top colleges with experience struggle with the art of gathering requirements because they were eager to contribute or exhibit their knowledge than just listen and make the other person comfortable. Observing Randall taught me that education is overrated. It is ironic that I learnt that while pursuing a higher education degree.
Job satisfaction is not a function of money
Everybody in the press made enough money yet nobody had to worry about any taxes. We all knew that we fell comfortably in the “Below poverty line” pool of the population. We ran a game of who gets the lowest grocery bill for a select set of items. We selected our meals for the week on the basis of the lowest price, leveraged coupons and felt great saving a little money every month to pay for tuition. It gave me the confidence that we could survive on a fraction of what we make. It is that knowledge that made an irrational decision of quitting a high paying job and starting on your own seem natural and a very non risky one. The press taught me it is important to find meaning not money in everything you do.
When I look back at my time in college, I recall little of supply chain or logistics now. I do vividly recall my time in the printing press and the various simple joys I experienced there. What unique experiences have shaped you as an individual?