What Makes a Professional; The Significance of Humility and Own Tools.

By Malcolm “Mudduckk” Campbell


In this blog I like to devote some copy to what makes a professional. I think this is important for two reasons: 1) I want to give my customers and associates an insight into my values, and 2) I want to give employees and fellow installers ideas about how to add value for their own benefit.

So these short serials on professionalism (search keyword professional) if done well can lead to a great thing called synergy – that’s value in excess of the simple sum of our parts. Like when a good singer gets together with a good guitarist and these two collect a good drummer in a garage, and in what would be just another garage band goes on to become something more remarkable. That what they do and how they do it together along with good timing all gels in a way that appeals to their audience. They become a viral hit – multi-platinum. Even if these posts are done just OK, they can still lead to a good discussion.

This professionalism edition is about the beginnings of professionalism. What it looks like on day one, week one, and month one.

Imagine this is your first day on the tile job. You may be a kid just out of trade school (do we still have any of these?) or you may be a veteran CPA who is plumb fed up with cube life (hoo! rah!). You may never have mixed cement held a trowel or even swung a hammer, but you are pretty solid on the idea that you want to work with your hands to make something beautiful and you hope to provide for your house and home by trading time for money. You are the FNG. (Also known as the new gal). And, somehow you’ve convinced me or some other tileguy to pay you just a bit more than others get paid for flipping burgers to “help” lay tile. Help in quotes here should be read with sarcasm, because there is really no way you are going to help when you know next nothing about a thing which takes special skill and tools. Your primary purpose here will be to demonstrate the green shoots of professionalism in the trade.
First of all you should be filled with something akin to humility. That having been plucked from the primordial ooze of warm bodies available in the job market, you are now being paid to get an education. You should be grateful and open minded. Specialized knowledge will now be transferred to you over these first days, weeks, and months. You should be like a sponge and soak it up. You should be like a performer, ready to repeat what you have just been shown and told. And, you should be prepared to screw it up and accept criticism no matter whether the criticism comes constructive and sage-like, or destructive and humiliating. Bottom line you must learn. If you are not a learner…or you have personality conflicts which prevent you from learning…I’ll know, and I’ll send you back where you came from – back to the burger flipping plant or the cube farm with you. For special skill only comes through the pain and suffering of learning and doing and failing over and over again. And, only humility can sustain you through this cycle.
Here’s a few other ways to demonstrate humility on the tile job.
It’s never too early to stockpile clean water. I have a lot of buckets. Show up fifteen minutes early and fill them all up with water. While you are at it roll out the power cords and set up the tools.
Tiling: “We start dirty and finish clean.” Learn how to clean my tools fast. Do it often so long as I am teaching you the trade. Keep your tools clean too.
Second, A professional has their own tools. Tools indicate commitment. No matter the trade; skilled, professional or otherwise, commitment matters to professionalism. Hence, you must be willing to invest in your trade through tools acquzition. Contrary to what you may think considering the meager amount you are being paid, tools acquizition begins when you receive your first paycheck. And you thought the premium you got paid over burger flipping was for getting to wear a hard hat and using coarse words. Not!
I recall want ads seeking carpenters or some other skilled trade and the final line says, “must have own tools”. In my early days I used to wonder how one came to have enough tools to qualify, but based on my experience and my considerable collection of tools, I have come to the conclusion that own tools comes from a solid and steady commitment to tools acquizition. There’s that C word.
Let me give you a clue. Showing up week two without some new tools (hint: margin trowel, box cutter, and knee pads) is a serious signal to me that you lack commitment to the trade and thus the end your full ride scholarship with the University of Tile Laying is soon to follow.
Here’s a couple more thoughts about own tools.
Since the time man first put a little rock under a long stick to create a fulcrum that moves a big rock with his relatively little weight, tools have helped man create value for society. This too is true for you. You must have faith that an investment in own tools will bring outsized returns to you and your society. Think of the tool as the long stick – the lever part of the fulcrum, and your small investment in the tool as the small rock in this simple machine. The returns you receive from owning the tool is the big rock moved.
Once you grasp this concept you will never look at the Lowe’s Tool World the same way again. Tools of all sorts will bring visions of big rocks which need to be moved…moved by you. When you have your own tools I will begin to think less of you as a relatively small and unskilled hamburger flipping CPA and more so as a Mover of Big Rocks. Seeing that Mover of Big Rocks in you will lead me to putting you on more of my jobs more of the time.
Consider the core dilemma of the journeyman – How do I maximize value to my employer such that I get to work the maximum number of days in a given year?
Answer: Own tools.
Nobody cares for own tools better than you.
I don’t mind destroying my own tools, but I hate when others destroy my tools. This may seem funny but misplacing my tools is destructive. Could you imagine if the doctor doing your heart transplant could not put her hands on her heart transplanter thingy at the crucial moment in your life and death situation because the FNG intern borrowed it a minute to use it as a hammer, or he figured you are the Big Master F’ing Surgeon, you of course provide all the tools in the hospital and so felt justified in using it on his patient’s procedure and leaving it where ever he was at the time when he was done using it? the point here is The Big Master F’ing Surgeon’s tools have a place. Learn them. Put them back in their proper place so the BFMS can enjoy their use when her time of need arrives.
Hint: If you like a particular tool so much and you use it a lot, then put it on your tools purchase list. Better yet show up next week with one of your own in your kit. I will notice.
Buying a new tool for the BMFS when you break one of hers is not a bad way to mend fences.
To recap, in the beginning there will be little you can do to control for your lack of skill other than be a willing learner and an eager doer. Humility is the key. Yet despite the experiential barrier to skill, there is something you can do to control for your lack of tools. Make a commitment to purchase some as you go along. At first it will be little things like margin trowels and razor knifes for these are good and humble tools, but later on as the vision and desire strikes you to move bigger rocks you will come to acquire own tools which will qualify you to lead your own tile crew. My little FNG, I do so look forward to that day.
What are your thoughts? How does my take on professionalism “in the beginning” compare and contrast with your experience?
Malcolm “Mudduckk” Campbell is a tile installer in Toledo, Ohio. Tilers play in the mud! Toledo is home of the Mud Hens minor league baseball, sometimes call the Mud Ducks. So you know a tile setter from Toledo would have to go by the nickname “Mudduckk.”  In fact, there could be many Mudduckks in Toledo, but only one of them is tops in Google Search. That one is Malcolm. Got Tile? Google: Mudduckk!

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