Calvin University's official student newspaper since 1907

Calvin University Chimes

Since 1907
Calvin University's official student newspaper since 1907

Calvin University Chimes

Calvin University's official student newspaper since 1907

Calvin University Chimes

Lessons I’ve learned while working in a factory

I’ve been working summers in a factory since I was 19, and doing so was one of the best decisions I’ve made. From this work I’ve learned a number of invaluable lessons that I’d like to share.

(1) You learn what it means to work hard and be disciplined.

Factory work is exhausting. You work muscles you aren’t used to and you go home in pain. When I first starting working in a factory two summers ago I had to learn a lot of things in a short period of time, but what stuck out the most was how drained I was at the end of an eight- or nine-hour day. My body ached, I was covered in grime and sweat, I was starving and I was in desperate need of a shower, but most of all I just wanted to sleep. Despite all this, it felt good, I felt as though I had done something meaningful and I had a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction.

On top of the grind that would wear out my body, I learned discipline in a way I couldn’t elsewhere. The previous year I worked in the bookstore and I loved it. It was a great experience with fantastic bosses and coworkers, a flexible schedule and great for learning key work skills. But there were things I learned more acutely in the factory than I did in the bookstore. The importance of arriving on time, how much your fellow workers rely on you, the real and sometimes hard consequences of your mistakes and the feeling of being a necessary gear in a machine. These have taught me a kind of discipline that is learned through sweat, strain, grime and groans.

(2) You learn the value of earning the dollar.

The factory really teaches you to associate hard work with livelihood. The hard work and discipline you learn are not just for the sake of hard work, though I personally believe in the inherent value of hard work regardless of the kind of work; it goes beyond this inherent value and teaches you that discipline means another paycheck, another meal, another college payment, another hard-earned dollar, another step towards the future.

(3) You learn the importance of your task.

Working in a factory you realize that everything, from the workers to the tools to the building itself, is like a giant machine. Everything must work in harmony with everything else. Imagine removing an important gear from inside a car: you pull out of your garage and drive down the street — no problems so far — but when you turn onto the highway things go badly and you lose a wheel. A factory is similar — if one important step is neglected then everything may come crashing down. While I haven’t worked in an automobile factory, imagine what happens if the worker responsible for a cog in the anti-lock brakes doesn’t show up? Obviously the car manufacturer won’t let that car go on the road, but that missing person is inconveniencing their fellow workers and the company.

(4) You learn how to work with others.

I work with an incredibly diverse group of people, all with different viewpoints, styles of language, and life stories. I’ve worked with atheists, agnostics and Christians; my coworkers are black, white, Hispanic and Asian; my coworkers are conservative, liberal, anarchist, you name it; they’re Republicans and Democrats, Trump supporters and Hillary voters. Some fit stereotypes, while others break them. Almost all of them swear and almost none care whether their words step on your toes. In the factory you don’t get sensitivity training and team-building exercises. Working in a factory doesn’t mean you bend over backwards for those with whom you disagree, it means sucking it up, getting to work, cooperating with other people and doing your part. I’ve found that my coworkers are some of the most honest and upfront people I’ve met; they say what they think. They don’t really care if you disagree and they aren’t offended when you do.

(5) Through factory work you learn to respect all kinds of work.

I’m a college student who hopes to someday teach high school students, but working in the factory has taught me to respect all kinds of work, especially the kinds that are sometimes looked down upon by academia. Mechanics, plumbers, janitors, garbage collectors, electricians, painters, construction workers, oil rig workers, sewage inspectors, factory workers, coal miners, welders, brickmasons, power plant operators, transportation inspectors and so on. These are difficult, and sometimes dirty, but fulfilling jobs. Without these people those of us with white collar jobs couldn’t function. They make our lives and jobs possible. These jobs and these kinds of work aren’t somehow inferior to academic or white collar jobs, but they are often treated this way. Furthermore, there is a somewhat prejudiced myth that these kinds of jobs are for those who weren’t smart enough to go to college; this is complete nonsense. Some of the brightest people I know are blue collar workers and capable of completing any level of education, but they find blue collar work more fulfilling.

These lessons have been invaluable to me, and I would encourage everyone to at least try this kind of work, work that has taught me these important lessons.

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