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  • Writer's pictureMatthew Davies

Hard Work

With my post last week, I crept over 5,000 individual views since I started this blog in December. It's a nice milestone and having people share my writing, post comments and speak to me about the blog when I'm out and about has been a lovely unexpected gift over these last 5 months. I'd like to take this opportunity to say how much I appreciate all of you for taking the time to read and engage with the content!

Since I started out on my own, just shy of eight months ago, I've been overwhelmed with the support and kind words that people have shared. On several occasions, offers of work have appeared out of the blue, all thanks to the kindness and generosity of people whose lives have intersected with my own over the years. From former colleagues, to people I've met through American Football, to school and university mates, I've been amazed at how my wide and varied network has supported my venture and given me loads of exciting and interesting things to get involved with. Whenever I've been out and about - whether that be at social events, weddings, functions I've hosted or while coaching sport, I've had people checking in on how I'm doing, how I'm enjoying it and whether I've been able to get things off the ground in the way that I'd hoped.

In answer to those questions, I'm doing great, I'm absolutely relishing the opportunities and I've been amazed at how things have taken off, particularly since the turn of the year! One things has been challenging me, however, and it's come up in conversation quite a lot. It all stems from the question 'Is it hard work?'

This might seem like a simple question to answer, but the more I've thought about it, the deeper down the rabbit hole I've gone and the more I've reflected on my life to this point and to the experiences which have shaped it. Today's post is all about where that reflection has taken me.

In the spring of 1990, as you would know if you'd ever read my 1990 Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles Diary (there's some GOLD in there, let me tell you!) I undertook paid work for the first time in my life. I was seven years old, in the North East of Scotland and I went out to pick Daffodils. Pickers are taken to a field, are each assigned a row of daffodils (known as a 'dreel') and spend the day picking ten flowers at a time, then securing them together into a bunch, using an elastic band and placing the bunch behind them in the dreel. Daffodils (or 'daffies' as they're known in the trade!) need to be pulled from the ground, not snapped off, so that they have good length and show white towards the bottom of the stems. Once the picker has either finished his/her dreel, or completed a suitable number of bunches, they gather up their bunches and turn them in at the desk, where they're counted and the picker's card is stamped with the equivalent cash value. In those days it was three pence a bunch, so fifty bunches would get you £1.50, then you're off back to your dreel to do it all over again!

Me (grafting) and my brother Lloyd (not grafting) during a recent trip down memory lane!

And so it went on, every spring from the age of seven until I was 21, when I officially hung up my Marigold gloves (to protect my delicate hands from the 'daffy juice'!) and my bumbag (to carry the elastic bands, which were used not only to secure the bunches, but as a lethal weapon in close quarters combat). On a nice day, in a good field, picking daffies was magic! Along with my older brother and my neighbour Julie-Ann, we made friends for life out there, overseen by our Julie-Ann's parents who were respectively the foreman of the farm and ran the desk, we met characters from all over the North East, as well as travelling casual labourers from as far away as Cornwall, who moved around the UK by the seasons of the farm, earning their wages in the fields. The banter was as rough and ready as you can imagine and I have many fond memories of picking King Alfred, Ducats (you got paid more for those, but they were heavier to carry!) and Cheer at Capo, Monboddo, Burn of Balmakelly and beyond.

It was also hard work. On a bad day, with snow blowing horizontally across the field and directly into your earhole, unable to feel your fingers and with the circulation being cut off by the elastic bands you counted out to manage your bunches, it was a tough place for anyone, especially a child of seven. Making your money three pence at a time is slow going, even in the best of conditions. But it let me have buy some things I still have - including my first ever Fender bass; a 1962 reissue P-Bass, made in Japan in 1997. It's hanging directly in front of my desk to this day.

As we got older, each season offered a new opportunity to make money. Daffies in the spring, strawberry picking in the summer, potato picking in the autumn. Then older still and the opportunity to rogue the potatoes in the summer. This involved going to the Scottish Agricultural College and getting a qualification whereby you could identify forty varieties of potato and a handful of diseases, just by looking at the plants! And that earned you the privilege of working ten hour days, seven days a week, for seven weeks through the summer, walking up and down the fields, preparing the seed potato crops for inspection. But the money was a real step up! When that season ended, but before we went back to school or university, we would make tattie boxes in Airlie sawmill, on the most reckless production line in history! Hungover students with nail guns firing off rounds and shouting abuse, pouring with sweat and caked in sawdust, trying to keep up with the old-timers! In 1999 I worked the whole summer and bought another bass that hangs right next to me - a Musicman Stingray, with which I made a whole host more memories along the way!

All of these jobs were hard work. At the end of the day, irrespective of season or role, I would come home filthy and exhausted, but with some money in my hand to show for my efforts. Much of it was piece rate - the harder I worked, the more money I got.

My first job that didn't involve manual labour, was a Christmas job at JD Sports in the Trongate, Glasgow, in my first year at University, selling trainers. I was indoors and it was warm! I got paid an hourly rate irrespective of output. It was magic! The I worked in the bar at the QMU pulling pints of Diesel, then the UGC Cinema selling popcorn. These involved a lot of chatting and laughter, interspersed with some work. Indoors. In the warmth. When I graduated, I did a sabbatical as an elected student officer at the University Students Representative Council. This was my first experience of what could be called knowledge work, where there was no physical element whatsoever, and life was all about meetings, emails and calls. Then I started in banking and work has been that way ever since.

Today I spend the vast majority my time doing one of a small handful of things: Coaching (typically via Zoom, sat at my desk), facilitating and carrying out speaking engagements (as above, except on rare occasions where I'm face to face), designing materials and sessions (sitting at my desk), prospecting for opportunities (sitting at my desk) or doing the research and reading that informs the rest of my work (sitting at my desk or in a comfy chair!). I love doing all of these things! They play to my strengths and they bring me joy. And therein lies the challenge - they don't feel like hard work.

I've been conditioned through my life experiences to think about 'hard work' as being physically demanding. Most of the manual jobs I did were mind-numbingly simple, but they required physical stamina and fortitude to overcome the conditions and the fatigue. My work today is mentally stimulating, often requiring deep thought, but has none of the physical toil that I grew up being used to. I get paid a lot more for what I do now than I ever did for the work I did in the fields, and at times, it feels like I'm cheating. It's like my own form of imposter syndrome; wondering when someone will realise that I'm making money without wearing myself down and step in to put an end to it!

I appreciate that probably sounds ridiculous and it's perhaps odd that it causes me a lot of reflection, but it also serves a useful purpose. When I put in late nights and early mornings, as I've done repeatedly since I set out on my own, I feel mentally conditioned for it. Taking a lot on doesn't overwhelm me, because I know it's all stuff I'm good at and I understand my capacity to graft. Does anyone else face this conundrum? I'd love to hear about it if you do!

Influencers talk a lot about life hacks and the ethos of working smarter rather than working harder. I'm a big believer in that approach; finding better ways to get things done. But the lessons we learn in our childhood run deep. And there's still a lot to be said for hard work.

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