There is a certain pride in dirty hands. Dirty hands to me mean that I’ve done something tangible, something of substance, something that required 3 dimensional, creative thinking. As someone with a relatively cognitive profession, I don’t get to see tangible products all that often. But as someone with the need to create, dare I say, a maker, dirty hands are often a sign that I’m in my happy place.
Many a mechanic or a roughneck would be the first to tell you that dirty hands are just part of the job. I once had this described to me with a question: “Do you shower before work, or after?” For people that build and make and produce on a daily basis, there certainly isn’t the novelty in dirty hands that those of us that shower before work might experience. But I don’t think that it is the novelty of dirty hands that is the crux but rather the novelty of the product. I think that the joy comes from knowing that something exists in this world now that didn’t when my hands were clean. If you replace transmissions on the same car every day all day, the world doesn’t have anything new for your labour. But if you bend your brain around replacing that truck transmission with one from a Viper, well I’d bet even the most jaded of mechanics would be proud of the dirt on his hands that day.
Day to day I’m building better companies or better software; I’m taking what is there and helping it make a leap towards its future self. Sometimes I get to see what my efforts reap years down the road, but most often I don’t. Even when through my labour new software emerges into the world, I don’t get the same rush I do from installing a new turbo, building a fence or even crosshatching my lawn as I mow. As the world becomes more virtual, making an impact get more difficult. At its simplest, I get the most joy from those things I make that make a dent in gravity.
So if I show up at a meeting and you notice PL 400 on my hands or paint in my hair, consider yourself lucky. I’ve just come from making something and you’re likely to receive the benefit of my heightened stillness, my afterglow of creation, my happiness. Even for those of you who shower after work, work every day to find that moment, however small, where you are proud of the dirt because of what you’ve made.