These are get-it-done days

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A shipyard owner I know called last week to tell me about a big refit project he’d just won. He got the job with a very competitive bid — and the only way he was going to make any money, he told me, is if he rolls up his sleeves and does a good bit of the work himself. Just like in the old days.

He actually sounded energized about the prospect of pushing back from the desk and getting out in the shop. And these days, who can afford to turn away work?

It’s never a good idea to let your skills atrophy, especially today. The thing is, it can happen without you realizing it. Two things are at work. Not only is the pace of change these days “wicked fast” (to quote an old dragger captain gone to his reward), but time always moves quicker than you realize. It should be one of those immutable scientific laws.

We probably could all do a better job of dusting off old skills, broadening existing ones and adding a new step or two to the repertoire. A former publisher once delivered what to this day I consider a seminal piece of advice on my profession. A lion in winter for whom writing once came easily, he was struggling at this juncture in his life to finish a long put-off novel.

“Bill,” he said one morning after an evening of wrestling with writer’s block, “whatever you do, don’t stop writing and think you can just pick it back up later. It’s tough,” he groaned. “Real, real tough.”

In a column in the April issue of Inc. magazine, the co-founder of Chicago software company 37signals talked about his “flat” organization, where horizontal ambition is celebrated and vertical ambition is not.

“We do not have room for people who don’t do the actual work,” Jason Fried wrote. “From writers writing and updating support documentation to designers designing the user interfaces to programmers writing the code to our operations people who make sure the servers keep on serving, we don’t have delegators who get paid to tell other people what to do.”

These are roll-up-your-sleeves-and-get–it-done days. Get it done no matter what it takes. Work smart. You make your own luck. There’s truth to those old chestnuts. And this one, too: The harder I work, the luckier I get.

A final note on broadening our tackle box of tricks and skills: Perhaps no skills have atrophied more than those of our distant hunter/gatherer forebears.

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As one who has long found pleasure in the pursuit of creatures with gills, scales and tiny brains, I found myself on unfamiliar waters this weekend — a wee Connecticut brook where rumor had it a trout or two lived. I am not by upbringing a trout fisherman. I grew up fishing the salt.

But my son was interested in catching a trout, which explains why we were standing in sheets of cold rain trying to decipher the dynamics of this pool at the foot of a windy hill: the hydraulics of the waterfalls, the back eddies, the shallows, the deep runs along the little island and the banks, and a dozen other variables. Where would a trout position himself to make a good living?

After much trial and error and a soaking to the skin, we found what we came for hidden along a deep run on the north bank beneath a mess of overhanging brush.

We took home our catch and pan-fried it in hot oil in a cast-iron skillet older than the hills — not quite Precambrian but definitely pre-personal computer. And then I taught my son a new skill: how to eat trout right off the bone. That one will never get old.


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