Wednesday, May 27, 2009

The Value of Working With Your Hands

Kathy and I often chuckle about how we have learned to handle being identified as "swim lesson teachers". When asked at a party or in a meeting by someone that we have never met before, they get a strange look on their face, that seems to say "ohhh you make a living and support your family teaching swimming?" One of my favorite questions is, "and what else do you do?" I will sometimes go off with a long winded explanation about how our small business is much more complicated than it seems. We have to train and recruit staff, work daily on our teaching techniques, interact with not only the children who swim in our programs or play in our sports camps but also their parents, schedule our pool use and yada, yada, yada. With a little internal smile I will share our story and move on through the day.

In these tumultuous economic times, I have had the opportunity to reflect on how lucky we are that we own our own business. The skills and services we provide to the families in our swim schools and sports camps cannot be outsourced. The economy of Phoenix has certainly effected our business but I am thankful that the great job our staff does in the water and on the sports camp fields is helping to keep our swimmers and campers enrolling. It is an endorsement from the parents of the kids in our programs that we provide a service of value.

This winter, we were short a Little Snapper teacher on Wednesday nights. I jumped in the water to teach one night a week to get us through until we could train another staff member to take these classes. As we looked at our summer schedule, I was asked by my supervisor who also happens to be my spouse, if I wanted to transfer my classes to a new teacher and get out of the water.

I will admit that teaching eight classes of six children and their parents back to back is hard. You have 96 different children and their various parents in the water over that time period. A high level of concentration is required, believe it or not. Trying to remember each child and parent's strengths and personality is important. But, I gotta tell you, my immediate reaction was: Me, get out of the water now? No Way! I have come to realize again, that I really enjoy it. I get as much energy and joy out of the experience of teaching as I possibly could imagine. It also makes me much more appreciative of the hard work and dedication of our many swim teachers, who are in the water far more hours than I.

So how did we get to this topic. Matthew Crawford has a Ph.D in political philosophy from the esteemed University of Chicago. He has written a very insightful article in a recent issue of The New York Times Magazine talking about how he bagged his prestigious job at a Washington, D.C. think tank to open a motorcycle repair shop. It is a great read!

He also has a new book coming out entitled Shop Class As Soulcraft: An Inquiry Into The Value Of Work. Heading to my local bookstore to pickup a copy tonight. So, the message today is that when your kid talks about being a craftsman, do not force them into only intellectual work. The world needs not only the work done by tradesmen and women but their intellectual skills as well. And if you are not happy in your cubicle, try to figure out how to do what you love, you may be surprised by the economic opportunity your energy brings to a business. And to summarize, how do I handle being a swim lesson teacher? With a big smile, a pair of shorts and flip flops and a baseball cap always handy for when i get out to our sports camps! We are in one of the most positive businesses on earth - kids learn quickly and they love to learn! Success brings big smiles and happy faces - we are blessed.

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