Out of Left Field: Work Smarter

I’ve always had a bittersweet relationship with the phrase “work smarter, not harder.” The expression resonates because I do enjoy using my brain to make tasks easier like figuring out how to text my dog to fetch me some nachos. But while I waste time arguing with the cell phone company to allow pets on our family plan, I could have already been enjoying chips and salsa through a bit of manual effort.

“Work smarter, not harder” can be used as an excuse for people to be lazy, under the (perhaps false) assumption that they are somehow more intelligent than those doing hard work.

All this is a setup to let you know that I, a middle-aged home-owner with a corner lot in South Dakota, still don’t own a snowblower. I do, however, own six different snow shovels. You’re probably thinking, “Weird flex, but OK.” But for me, shoveling snow is the quintessential reminder that hard work equals results. Forget about the pretense of intellect. No planning or strategy required. Just do the dang work. I find it oddly cathartic and rewarding. After the snow settles, I carefully select the right shovel from my vast arsenal and open the garage door, unveiling a fresh, undisturbed tundra. (Yes, I do have an automatic garage door.)

Without overthinking, I quickly settle into a pattern of bend, scoop, throw, breathe. Bend, scoop, throw, breathe. I repeat the pattern over and over, building a satisfying, audible rhythm worthy of a very far off-Broadway production of STOMP. I cruise down the sidewalk until I stop to catch my breath. Beads of sweat roll down, then freeze to my cheek. I look back and see an artistically meandering excavation, carved out like a left-handed kindergartner cutting paper with right-handed scissors — evidence of my hard work.

I sense my neighbors staring out their windows in judgment. “What an idiot! Lift with your legs!” As if that's even possible. I suppose I should kick with my shoulders too? Throw with my torso? Nonsense! This task requires simple brute force and determination. I rip through the powder like a snow plow, drifts exploding off the edge of the shovel. I sail along until I hit the hidden, elevated crack in the sidewalk. The handle jams into my gut, and I pole vault over the shovel. Undeterred, I dust myself off and continue on because the work is not yet done. I launch one last scoop and proudly fling the shovel over my shoulder. On my way back to the garage, I admire what I assume is a completed project. (I can’t see anything beyond my fogged glasses.)

All around me, I hear the buzz of neighbors' automatic snowblowers, working "smarter" as they delegate the arduous task to a machine. All the while taking for granted the opportunity to breathe in deeply…well, maybe heave in…the chilly fresh air of South Dakota winter.

*Note – I'll gladly retract this entire column if someone is willing to donate me a gently used snowblower.




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