Impoverished Craftsman Part 2

August 29, 2005

The Impoverished Craftsman, Part 2
By: Matt Michel

A contractor wrote to me in an email, “I have never been able to figure out some guys. They think that being underpaid, undervalued and in debt is some badge of honor that goes along with being a quality craftsman...”

Continued from part 1:
Impoverished Craftsman
Impoverished and nearly always broke, our example craftsman is continually juggling. He makes do without small luxuries for himself and his family. He thinks twice before going out to eat. The most minor investment in his business is a reason to pause. Can he afford it? How much does he have in the checking account? Can he make the bills balance out?

The impoverished craftsman may steal a three-day weekend here and there, but he rarely takes a real vacation. He can’t afford to. He can’t afford it financially. He can’t afford to be away. Who will take care of the customers?

He’s always worried about the dry spells, the times when the calls do not come. It’s not merely the dearth of revenue that bothers him, it’s the free time. Free time is frightening. Free time allows for introspection, thought, consideration about where he is and where he wants to be in life. Free time forces him to confront the thought that it wasn’t supposed to be like this. It wasn’t supposed to be this hard. He once had such dreams.

As long as he can hold it together, keep the wolves at bay, and stay one step ahead of bankruptcy, the impoverished craftsman remains static. He can’t, won’t go back. He won’t work for someone else. His pride won’t allow it. His honor won’t stand it.

So he exists… barely. He exists safely within a defined comfort zone. He can’t bring himself to leave the comfort zone, to let go of the craft and learn a new one, to take the steps necessary to succeed.

When he sees others in his trade doing well, he asks how. Why are they successful when he’s struggling? It requires a hard look in the mirror to answer the question. It requires facing the truth that his greatest enemy is staring back.

Forced to confront a world that heaps rewards in equal measure to the value provided to society on those he disdains, he rationalizes. Why they aren’t even craftsmen, he thinks. They’re salesmen, marketers, high priced hucksters, overcharging their customers.

The fact that the customers of these companies may be aware they’re paying a little more, yet are still satisfied with the arrangement eludes the craftsman. He concludes that the successful must have cheated, lied, deceived. To think otherwise is to take responsibility, to realize he could also be successful had he made different choices. To think otherwise is to recognize his lot in life, his die was cast by himself.

As time goes on, he regards the successful business owners with greater and greater animosity. If someone reaches out to help, he slaps the hand away. He shuts himself off from new ideas and new concepts. He becomes the antithesis of the successful companies in his field and seeks like-minded individuals to reinforce his world view and salve his tenuous esteem.

To the outside world, he’s brash, bold, and confident in the purity of his ways. It’s a cover. Underneath is a nagging sense of self-doubt that he cannot allow to rise to the surface. To allow it to emerge is to face reality… to face the need to change.

The End Game
As time goes on, he finds it harder and harder to perform the craft he loves so well. His body, abused and slight broken, resists when he struggles to carry more loads, to squeeze into more inaccessible spaces. Backaches and stiff joints become his constant companion. Still, he cannot stop. He can’t afford to. His only exit strategy is the final exit. So he works until he can work no longer, old, impoverished, pained, proud, stubborn, and bitter.

Next, Part 3: How to avoid being an impoverished craftsperson.

Source: Comanche Marketing. Reprinted by permission.
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Copyright © 2004 Matt Michel

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