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Be Great at What You Do.

Blue Collar View
By Marc Townsend

Be Great at what you do

“Don't just practice your art, but force your way into its secrets; art deserves that, for it and knowledge can raise man to the Divine.” - Ludwig van Beethoven

Marc Townsend, Plumbing Division Manager, Bardi

This quote is from a letter Ludwig van Beethoven wrote to a young pianist and admirer named Miss Emile in 1812, thanking her for a gift she presented to him. At this time in his life, the composer was nearly completely deaf.

I was taught a long time ago that if you wanted to be great in your career choice, you need to learn everything there is to know about your job. This might sound somewhat arrogant, but I am great at what I do. I have been in the mechanical contracting industry for 34 years now. Starting at a very early age, I wanted to learn everything, and fast. I couldn’t get enough. I wanted to work on the big buildings, working on and install the large pipes, pumps, equipment, etc. In addition to that, I wanted to know what each of those pipes, pumps and equipment did – how they operated and why they were designed to be used in that application. I didn’t just want to install these items because the engineer said they needed to be installed. I knew that the more knowledge I had about all the working parts of the systems I was installing, the better prepared I would be for my future.

One of the things that motivates me in the day-to-day operations of this business, is being challenged. Not everyone thinks the way I do; we are all different. Everyone thinks problems through differently. I am a very detailed-oriented person who loves organized data. I am in my element when I am moving in several different directions, with multiple tasks to be completed. My mindset is such that I will drill into every aspect of the problem or opportunity ahead and conclude results that allow me to succeed.

But enough about me.

Everyone processes and retains information differently. Based on theories going back as far as 40 years, there are three main cognitive learning styles. They are visual, audible and kinesthetic. Knowing which one of these learning styles is yours can help you succeed in your career. Below are some examples of the common characteristics.

(1) Visual: Prefers pictures, charts and graphs. Tends to remember things that are written down and learns better in lectures by watching them

(2) Audible: Retains information by hearing it. Likes being told how to do things and in return summarizes the main points out loud to help memorize

(3) Kinesthetic: Likes to learn hands on. Prefers to demonstrate how to do things rather than verbally explaining it.

Most people in the skilled trades industries fall into the third category. A kinesthetic learner tends to dive in, get his hands dirty and learn how to put things together. He will also teach by doing. What happens when he starts climbing the ladder to advance in his career? He needs to be able to adapt his style of learning. For example, take an auto mechanic who wants to start his own business. This person will need to increase his skillset and wear many hats to successfully grow his business. He can’t run his business by working under the hood of his car all day. He will need to adapt and learn not only by doing things hands-on, but also by listening and reading. If he’s not adaptable in his learning style, he will not be successful in jumping to the next level in his career.

You have heard the expression many times, “If you put your mind to it, you can do anything.” This quote is true, and the goals we set as individuals are attainable. Reaching those goals depends on how strong and how versatile (promotable) we want to be in our careers, our families or our communities.

Ours is an “instant gratification” society. We want everything now. We want to know now. We want to earn a high income now. We want to be the boss now. In our careers, we cannot have this mindset. We need to slow down, take the time and learn. Living in the information age, we have knowledge – literally – at our fingertips.

We are all different; we all learn in different ways. We learn at varying paces. When it comes to attaining goals, we must remember that there is always a learning curve, and to try to bypass that curve is a mistake. When we try this, we are cheating ourselves.

Simply, it is our job not only to learn, but to master every aspect of what we do in our careers. Beethoven mastered his skill to the point that he didn’t even need to hear the works he was composing, to know that he was creating beautiful music. Most of his famous music was composed after he was completely deaf. He knew how great a composition would sound, simply by putting pen to paper. Whether you are an automobile mechanic, electrician, surgeon, welder, HVAC Technician, banker or a Custodian, learn your craft and master it, as Beethoven mastered the art of composition.

Through the course of your workday, how many questions do you ask? Better yet, how many questions do you ask about the next level or opportunities for advancement at your company? Without the knowledge of all aspects of what your job entails, you will no doubt remain at your current level of mastery. For some, that is just fine. But for you, I doubt that is enough.

To young people who are just entering the work force, the best piece of advice I can offer is to never be afraid of getting dirty and working hard, but most importantly I recommend finding a mentor, asking questions and listening.

“Opportunity is missed by most people, because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work” – Thomas Edison

Marc Townsend is currently the Commercial Plumbing Division Manager at Bardi Heating, Cooling and Plumbing in Norcross, GA. He has 34 years in the Plumbing and Mechanical trades industries, with extensive knowledge and certifications in Water, Oil, Gas, Steam and Process Piping. He and his wife are (almost) empty-nesters, if you don’t count the four dogs who still live, very comfortably, at home. You may email Marc at: