Let us all see the value of our work


LOUISE SWARTZWALDER - McZena Muse



You know you have a job to do, but sometimes there is something standing in your way.

To write your column, you feel like you have to have the appropriate spark. Something has to have inspired you. Or, you have to feel really angry about something because someone you barely know has accused you unjustly of a fault.

One memorable moment not long ago did that to me. I went home from the office fuming. I sat inside for a bit and then decided I needed a better way to vent my frustrations.

I went outside to my vegetable and flower growing area, and pulled weeds.

I just did the same thing here.

I was thinking about what I could write for a column, feeling stumped.

I looked outside my window, right here on Main Street, and saw an obnoxious weed.

I pulled it.

Before I took that really decisive action, I was thinking about Labor Day. What is the significance of that national holiday?

It was started to honor people who work.

I guess I can say that ethic applies to me really well.

My late husband John always said that if I didn’t have anything specific to do on any given day, I would invent something to do.

When I ran my business, I worked all day at the commercial kitchen where my employes did the production work. Then, I would go home and churn out something else. It could be ideas for something new to sell, or a try-out on a new kind of really great soup.

In my business, I was the queen of figuring out value added products. I also used that little skill when I did my training stints for people in other countries.

Once I trained a group of farmers in Uganda on how to come up with simple little products that would allow them to make more income.

I showed them how to take a discarded plastic bottle, fill it with water, put in a vegetable or flower plant gone to seed, and create a bouquet. Spending zero dollars.

I would get bonuses for doing that kind of work. I could always tell if my students ‘got’ what I was trying to teach them. You would see a glimmer of recognition in someone’s eyes, and know that you had hit home.

In Uganda, a very astute farmer named Alele Samuel copied what I had told him, and brought in his own bouquet he had created. He’s the same guy who held up his hand one day in class, and told me he had decided he probably didn’t make as much as he should on his crops. This came after I had spent days trying to get the farmers to figure out all their overhead costs.

To make a business work this is something every entrepreneur should do.

What are your operating costs? Add up labor, incredients, utilities, transportation costs.

I asked the farmers in Uganda about their costs and started with labor.

They all said there were no labor costs because they did all the work.

I told them when I figured out my prices, the cost would automatically be higher because my skills don’t come cheap.

I was able to present them what I had figured could be their labor costs, because I found a cooperative farmer who told me he employed people who were at a local prison.

I told my farmers, for sake of argument, they could use the labor cost figure I had found. You add up all your costs, apply a mark-up and come up with a respectable figure you can quote to a customer.

Every kind of work a person does has value.

The figure my dad probably applied to his kind of work might seem paltry to a lot of people. Because he was a farmer he didn’t think much about what his hourly wage should be.

He worked, like all farmers, until jobs were done.

He didn’t pay himself. No farmer does.

But he always knew he would net something, because after all his costs were figure and he settled with his hired hands, he would have money in his pocket.

You couldn’t say my father was a pushing, tough play maker. He didn’t believe in living his life that way.

He once had a piece of farm equipment he wished to sell, and he put it out over across the road in a field, with a sign saying he wanted

$200 for it.

There were no takers.

Then, he increased the price to $400. It sold.

Though we have already celebrated Labor Day, it is my hope we all properly reflected on the contributions of all kinds of working people.

You don’t have to say your work was better or more valuable than that done by others.

But if you can say you took pride in your work, as did my father, then you’ve done well.

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LOUISE SWARTZWALDER

McZena Muse