Why Aren’t you in School? Vocation and the Work of the Hands

By Scott Keith

This is a short blog written by my son, Joshua Keith. He is an honorable man who believes that the life of the mind is often played out in the work of the hands. I think here he shows himself to be a better-than-average young writer as well.


Before I begin, I’d like to introduce myself. Hello, I’m Joshua Keith. That’s correct, yet another Keith. It’s hard to throw a rock and not hit a Keith on this blog, huh? My father, Scott Keith (Grandpappy Keith), asked me if I would write a blog this week, so I decided to do it on one of the most commonly asked subjects about me. I feel I get asked this question almost every day lately, whether it’s from people at the ACE hardware where I work or at the church where I currently attend. It’s always the same question, or at least put in similar ways. “Oh, you’re 18?” they ask, “aren’t you in college?” To which, by now, I’m accustomed to answering: “No, I had a couple of jobs during high school, learned to work with my hands, and liked it. After I had graduated from high school, I moved out of my parent’s home and got a new job and am doing my best to earn a living.” What bothers me most is that after this statement there’s a running theme of people making some sort of judgmental face; shock, pity, and unbelief is what I see written all over their faces. Needless to say, it’s rarely a positive reaction.

Some of you who read this might think something like the title: “Why aren’t you in school?” For starters, let me just say I in no way see anything wrong with going to college. For many, even most, college seems like the best opportunity for those seeking to broaden their academic education and apply what they learn to their future vocations. What I do believe is wrong is the assumption, no, the expectation, that everyone my age should be in college and that there must be something wrong with those who aren’t.

HANDS

I don’t think there’s anything wrong with people who don’t go to college. Rather, I am simply trying to do the same as those who do attend college, or at least what college attending students should be doing: applying what they learn or what they seek to learn to their vocation. As mentioned before, I had a couple of jobs during high school. I worked at a glass shop installing windows and doors. I worked at a cabinet shop building and installing counters and cabinets. I spent time interning in a bike shop learning to assemble and repair bicycles. I didn’t pick up these jobs just because I needed the money, though it was nice to make some.

There were never dull days working in those memorable shops and lifting hundreds of pounds of wood, glass, and metal. The most exciting day of work I ever had was when I was outside and half-way up a metal two-story ladder during a thunderstorm. My more experienced partner was safe inside holding in place the window I was installing. I was totally invigorated. Regardless of any shitty work day, I kept those jobs because they taught me more than I felt my “real classes” were teaching me.

I learned that I loved working with my hands and that I never had a better feeling than coming home sweaty and dusty from a hard day of working. I actually enjoy walking through the door at the end of a hard work day, laying on the floor, and feeling the ache in my back which runs like ice water down my spine. I understand that these things will not sound appealing to everyone, especially in our day and age. However, I can say that it’s a real shame that it’s not appealing to more. Though, I do wish that I knew more of those who feel the same. I believe that the results of hard work, even when not printed as a letter grade on a test or paper, are worthy of praise. Working with your hands, serving people, and learning to build things are noble endeavors and laudable vocational pursuits. I love the work I do; I love any opportunity I get to help people with the knowledge and skills I’ve acquired. In the end, whether by means of college or not, isn’t that what everyone wants? I want to show pride in my vocation of serving God by serving my neighbors through the movements of my everyday life at home and at work.

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7 thoughts on “Why Aren’t you in School? Vocation and the Work of the Hands

  1. Wonderfully stated Joshua. Your words are a gracious reminder that we serve God in all areas of life, including our vocation, whatever that is. You are a Blessing to your family and those whom you serve!

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  2. That’s great! All of the men in my family have been craftsmen. The only reason I went to college is because I was injured from the military and was therefore limited in what I could do for a living.

    If you get into an apprenticeship at a young age, you can make some serious money while your peers are working part-time and probably even going into debt to get a degree. My cousin is a sheet metal worker (A/C primarily) and he bought a house at the age of 24. He started his apprenticeship at 18. Granted, homes in Sacramento are a lot cheaper than in So Cal, but I’m nowhere near being able to afford a home with my college degree.

    The only down side is that working construction for 30 years can be hard on your body. I’ve seen it wear down some pretty tough guys. Get into an apprenticeship while you’re young so that you can be a foreman by the time your body starts to wear down.

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    1. I had him read that a couple years ago. Great book as is his follow up, The World Outside Your Head.

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  3. Refreshing to read such a well written article by a non scholastic. I wonder how many graduates could build a bookcase for their personal libraries? Just what this country needs (in my opinion) more renaissance men(&women).

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