The tendency of our times is to disregard old maxims. It is true, many of them, based on the experience of other people under very different conditions, are not applicable in our day. “Haste makes waste” may be true in the workshop, but the business man knows that “time is money,” and it pays to be in a hurry when the market shows signs of a change.
The good old maxim that “whatever is worth doing is worth doing well,” is too often forgotten. “That is good enough for him, or for the money,” is a poor excuse for a man to sacrifice his good name, and still worse to induce him to acquire careless habits. It has been said that while American workmen are better paid, better fed, better educated, and, we may add, better behaved, than those of any other country, they can beat the world in slighting their work and cheating their customers and employers.
The shoemaker, who turns out one or two pairs of boots a week for a customer, takes an honest pride in his work, and feels and knows that he is to be held personally responsible for every stitch he puts in. In a large factory, where the division of labor should make every man an expert in his own branch, the workman often loses his identity and responsibility. He knows the customer cannot fall back on him however imperfect his work. If it is only covered up so as to conceal it from the eye of his foreman he is safe. Probably this is doing much to encourage careless work. It is well known that ready-made clothing, boots, dresses, underclothing, everything made in large quantities, is far cheaper than custom work, but alas! it is very often not as good.
There are many people in every land who like to be humbugged, while others have an equally strong passion for cheap wares, whether poor or good, and some one must supply this demand. The producers of such goods employ poor workmen at correspondingly poor wages, because they must make their profits out of their workmen. Five and ten cent stores are lowering the standard of production as well as the scale of wages.
It never pays to be a poor workman. If you are a young man, aim to do honest work, and, although your present employer may not be willing to pay you any more for a well-made coat or a neatly-finished boot than he would for a botch, don’t be discouraged. If you are a carpenter, make the best joint you can; if you are a machinist, see that every bolt and rivet is as firm as if your life depended on its properly fulfilling its duties. How carefully the aeronaut examines his balloon, the tight rope performer his rope before he trusts his life to it. Would a shipbuilder take passage on a vessel of his own building if he knew that he had willfully neglected or slighted any essential part of her hull?
Yet many a young mechanic has destroyed his own future and committed moral suicide by sending forth a poor piece of work. The old surgical professor’s caution to a young medical student is not inapt here. Said he, “If you are ever called to set a broken leg, and your work is a failure, and the man becomes a cripple, you may be sure he will always come limping along just at the wrong time, when you are surrounded by your clients and friends. He is a walking advertisement of your incapacity.”
Every manufacturer knows the value of a good reputation. There are names that will sell almost anything. Why do Burt’s shoes bring a better price than those of other makers? Why does Squibb’s ether bring a higher price than that of any one else? Why do Merk’s chemicals have their own price list? Because they are known to be honestly prepared.
The path to fame by honest merit is a slow and tedious one. A manufacturer who is so careful about his products that he has to put a higher price on them than his less conscientious neighbor can sell for, may be repaid at first by small sales and smaller profits. It takes a long time to build up a reputation by excellence, but once acquired it is like the pearl of great price.
It is much the same with the workman as with the manufacturer. If every stroke he strikes is solid work, conscientiously performed, he will acquire a reputation, limited as it may be, that is sure to pay in the end. We would not conceal or deny the fact that some men labor under peculiar disadvantages. All men are not born equal, either mentally or physically. One is naturally skillful in one direction, another is expert in many things. One man may do his level best, and yet he will not turn out as good a piece of work as his more skillful brother who only half tries. Let him not be discouraged because he is handicapped in the race, and may not be able to reach the top of the ladder. There is room for honest workmen everywhere; even respectable mediocrity pays better than brilliancy coupled with trickery.
The native American is distinguished by his ingenuity, and with half a chance he makes his mark everywhere. Yet he sometimes loses the race in competition with less able men of other lands, because their careful training and early drill in their profession, their long and severe apprenticeship, has more then compensated for the want of natural tact and ingenuity.
Perseverance will not conquer all things, but it goes a long way toward success. While luck seems to favor the few, most men have to carve out their own success by hard labor, in which a full determination to do everything to the very best of one’s ability counts for more than is generally supposed. Above all things, don’t waste time in regretting that another trade was not chosen. If it is an honest one, stick to it and it will pay.
Scientific American – October 2, 1880
– Jeff Burks