What My Lawn Sprinkler Guy Taught Me About Entrepreneurship & Working Smart

Or why working all year round is crazy-talk and what we should do differently I can’t type this story fast enough. This literally just happened to me fifteen minutes ago and my brain is swimming with ideas. I almost got into a car accident trying to make it to my computer so I wouldn’t forget everything I learned.

I’m obsessed with small businesses — the kinds that make everything work in the background. The thankless jobs. The underground careers. The people who get things done, so we don’t have to go outdoors — ever.

It’s getting cold here in Michigan. Part of the fall ritual is getting the sprinkler system blown-out so it won’t freeze during our brutal winters. Basically, the sprinkler guy hooks up a giant air compressor to the house and blows all the water from the lines. Easy-peasy, lemon-squeezy.

Don’t worry, this story isn’t really about my lawn… just wait for it. The guy I use is a 1.5 man operation. He works alone and has a helper for the bigger projects. I like to take these people aside and ask them about their business. I always get gems that humble me (and make me hate my day job even more). I asked a simple question. I said, “what do you do in winter, plow driveways?” His answer made me slack-jawed. The sprinkler guy said, “hell no. I don’t work in the winter. I’m in a band. I go to Jamaica for a month. Stuff like that. I work really hard in the fall and slow-paced in the summer. That’s about it for the year.” I raised my eyebrows. “Nothing in the winter?” I asked. He said, “nope. Why would I want to work in the winter when I can make 40 grand a month working my ass off in the fall. It’s all I need for the rest of the year.”

We do our best when we have a work-rest cycle.

Then came the double jaw drop. I swear my chin hit the grass. This guy was working the way we’re built, using a work-rest-work-rest cycle. It’s the way we evolved. This is brains our brains operate best. It’s the most-healthy for us. We need both intense work followed by recovery. Yet, we’ve been working in this year-round, drone-mode of operating for the past 75–100 years.

I walk around my office and the only highlight of most peoples’ day is either going to the cafeteria or leaving at the end of shift. They literally can’t drive fast-enough out the parking lot.

There must be a better answer.

The industrial age needed to get the most production from us. The system made us compete against each other, working longer and harder for less pay. We now work year-round with a week’s vacation …if we behave. Most of this work is spent staring at a screen.

The 9 to 5 is Literally Killing Us Whether it’s the sitting thing, being worse for our hearts than smoking, or the amount of time we spend working versus following our calling — the 9 to 5 needs to be re-engineered. I’m a creative. I work in a non-creative, scientific job, and I suffer from cowardice to change, coupled with the Golden Handcuffs. I see this guy, standing in his shorts and sunglasses, loving life, and making lawyer-level money per hour. I do all my creative work in the scraps of free time I’m tossed by my employer. Some of us call this time our lives.

Sure, if sprinkler guy doesn’t work he doesn’t eat. He’s got to be outside no matter the weather. His benefits are self-funded, so he doesn’t have this fancy corporate package that I’m fed (so I’ll keep working year-round). It probably costs him a lot of money to go to the doctor.

But Sprinkler Guy is free. I don’t give a damn if he barely gets-by. The guy is free. He writes his own ticket. And, after speaking to him, he’s been writing his ticket for 27 years. So, his work-rest business model works. Working smart is about being free. I’m working hard to build a business outside of my day job, but those scraps of time are short and spread-thin. Right now I work under the principle of cumulative effort. I can see the incremental growth and I keep going, without looking too far ahead.

Why No One Should Have a Day Job Yep, I’m a hypocrite. I’ve worked at the same job more than 20 years. I’ve been smashed-down by the thumb of benefits and a steady paycheck. But I’ve been entrepreneurial all my life. There’s always been a side hustle working in tandem to my day job. The 9 to 5 is so poisonous because, for most, it has nothing to do with our calling. Our calling is the work we’d do even if we didn’t get paid. This is the work that matters most. Whether you want to work one week a year (I know a person who does this, operating the biggest private art fair in my state), or you want to work 24/7/365, the amount you need to work should be your choice. The amount you need to work should be your choice.

Where do we go from here? We start small. We find one things that turns our crank and we keep cranking. The biggest enemy of the part-time entrepreneur (I hate the phrase wantrepreneur… like it’s some kind of club) is shiny-object syndrome. When we work on something for a little and we move to something new and exciting a month later, we’ve waster hours of precious time. I used to do this a lot. I’ve started over 40 different businesses. I still have a day job. Don’t do it the way I did. Follow your idea through to completion (or until you recognize it won’t work).

Sprinkler Guy is in a band. Maybe the band is his calling, but he realizes music won’t pay his bills, so he built the sprinkler business to support his calling. Maybe there’s a freelance gig out there for you, or a side-hustle, or main hustle. Work is important. We’ve got to work hard to ensure our vocation stands-out amongst all the others.

But we don’t have to work hard all the time. We’re built to need periods of rest. Our brains work best when we have both variety and routine. It’s time to find the work that sets us free. The time is now. Stop working in the winter. Stop working when you don’t want to work. We’re waiting for you.

Written by: August Birch

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