Let us begin with the first state. People in this phase are collectively known as schleppers. This term comes from the Yiddish verb "schlep," which means "to drag." Colloquially, it also means to carry something around, as in "schlepping those bags through the airport." In most common parlance, a schlepper is thought of as a lazy, sloppy person, but this is not the connotation that I wish to apply here. For me, a schlepper is someone who is in the first stage of his or her development.

Literally, a schlepper is a carrier. In the good old days, a perfect example of a schlepper was a caddie, a kid who carried golf bags. You are not doing a lot of heavy thinking when you are schlepping; you are performing useful but perhaps menial labor, usually in the service of someone else. Schlepping is not very glorious, but nonetheless one should not underestimate its importance.

First of all, just because you are schlepping does not mean you are forbidden to think. In fact, just the opposite is true: Because the work content of schlepping includes little thinking, you can use this time to think and learn while you schlep. Many creative ideas occur during schlepping. For instance, how can I schlep this stuff with less effort? One of the very first caveman (or perhaps I should say "caveperson") schleppers invented the wheel as a result. The act of routinely repeating a boring, uninteresting task, or having to expend what seems like an inordinate amount of labor to achieve a mundane goal, often causes even the dullest schlepper to have an ideanecessity (made most obvious by pain or fatigue) being the mother of invention. My experience is that people who have schlepped often see new and interesting ways to avoid schlepping, even when the schlepping is associated with a new domain. They develop instincts for when something is going to turn into a big schlep and head off that eventuality at the pass. Ex-schleppers make great engineers, for example.

In general, we all need to schlep. It builds character, as trite as that may sound. It teaches us humilityhumility of the sort, "If I don't get smarter about this, I'm going to have to schlep the rest of my life." There are some interesting aspects of this phenomenon.

Schleppers quickly perceive the great injustice of life. Here you areyoung, smart, good looking, and so onand you have to schlep for some old, fat, dull idiot who just happens to be your boss. How did that happen?

Sometimes these bosses can be downright stupid, to the point of making you schlep more than you should have to. Other times, they can increase your grief through deliberate cruelty. And because you are the designated schlepper, you have two choices: schlep in silence, or go schlep somewhere else. The third option, making a ruckus, is usually counterproductive, as schleppers are basically interchangeable by definition, and noisy ones are quickly replaced.

Some amazing truths reveal themselves to observant schleppers. For example, schlepping in silence causes erosion of the stomach lining, so the learning schlepper will attempt to deal creatively with his work or social situation in such a way as to minimize grief. Quitting and schlepping somewhere else (option two) is most often found to not be a solution at all, for just as all schleppers are interchangeable, all schlepping jobs are basically the same. Most of the time, it's out of the frying pan and into the towering inferno.

Skipping over the schlepper phase is dangerous, even if you could do it. Actually, some people dothose who are born rich. They never get to experience the benefits of schleppingfor instance, the joy of creative schlepping, or the pride one takes in a load well-schlepped. As a result, they never understand what most of the world is going through. They take too much for granted and are not well grounded in reality. And, it is almost impossible to become a schlepper later in life if you never were one to start with.

But more important, you miss out on important lessonshumility, the value of a dollar earned through a hard day's work, the intrinsic unfairness of the world, and how screwed up things are down in the trenches. The other irreplaceable lesson comes through contact with the enormous variety of people the real world presents the schlepperthe gonifs,[1] the liars, the cheats, and what used to be called in less politically correct times, "the common people." Most important, there are those wonderful others who see something special in you and say to themselves, "Why is this kid schlepping? Surely he can do more," and then act on it. They become our mentors, coaches, and champions, and that is one of the ways we move beyond the schlepper phase.

[1] A gonif is a common thief.

Sooner or later, every schlepper must come to understand that in order to make progress, you have to move beyond the schlepper phase. This involves investment. You can schlep forever and blame it on the evils of the class system, free-market capitalism, or whatever, but the system is there. To stop schlepping, you have to be able to do something that gets someone to say, "Hey, I'm not paying you to schlep that stuff; get someone else to do it!" Often this takes the form of actually making the effort to get more education or training, thinking, or doing something that makes you stand out in a positive way. It requires, in Churchill's words, blood, sweat, tears, and toil.[2] You must show that you can add value at the next level. This is a two-part proposition. First you have to get the training, acquire the skills, get the result, do the deed. Then you have to get someone influential to recognize that something has changed and that you are ready to graduate from the schlepper phase. These are the mentors I described previously.

[2] If you want to leave footprints in the sands of time, I suggest you wear work boots. Also, the more accurate quotation of Churchill is, "I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears, and sweat," in his May 13, 1940 speech. It has been misquoted so often as to become part of the language. Note, for example, the rock band "Blood Sweat and Tears."

So, we all start out as schleppers. Kids are the schleppers in every family. Think of being a schlepper as being an apprentice. Kids are apprentice adults. If they are watchful, can avoid getting killed, and listen from time to time, they can graduate to adulthood. If not, they remain kids forever.

Resign yourself that in everything you doevery new job, every new sport, every new relationshipyou start out as a schlepper. How long you remain one is up to you. And remember, while you are a schlepper, to maintain your dignity.

The Software Development Edge(c) Essays on Managing Successful Projects
The Software Development Edge(c) Essays on Managing Successful Projects
Year: 2006
Pages: 269 © 2008-2017.
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