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I had an experience last week that I shared internally as a Labor Day weekend message. I thought it was worth sharing with all of you because I think it speaks to the rewards of dedicated hard work and being passionate about the work you do (regardless of what that work is) — and how easy it can be to take that work for granted.

I was standing in the hallway of the MAKE offices where we put up all of the page proofs for the issue we’re currently working on. We’re closing in on finishing Volume 32, so most of the pages were spread out before me. Steve Davee, who’s now part of the Maker Education Initiative, was in town for a meeting. He saw me perusing the wall, came over, and began to enthuse (paraphrase):

Gareth, do you realize how amazing what you all do is?,” he asked. “I mean, look at this. It’s SO cool! You guys do such an outstanding job. The magazine is beautiful. It’s really not easy to convey all of this complex information and make it so readable, understandable, and lovely. Look at these illustrations! (He pointed out several particular illos and explained why he thought they were exemplary.) I can tell how much work and care you all put into each and every piece. It’s REALLY amazing.

I felt so proud in that moment. I was suddenly seeing all of this intense effort through somebody else’s eyes. It’s easy, when you do something day in and day out, for the time, effort, and love that you put into it to disappear; for you to become complacent. Looking at the Proof Wall with Steve, I could suddenly FEEL all of that effort — the time all of the authors took to create those projects, write those articles, the labors of the illustrators, photographers, and the designers, the in-house project builds of the interns, the editors’ endless meetings, emails, fact-checks, edits, and re-edits, the work of our Sales & Marketing team. And then, of course, out of our hands, it’s off to the printers where a whole other team of worker bees and machines descend on our labors to create a physical magazine. And then the machinery of distribution and subscription fulfillment which takes over after that. It’s hundreds of people coming together, working very hard to create a product that we’re very proud of. At least we are when we stand back and think about it. (And, of course, you’re in that loop too, as subscribers, supporters, contributors, Maker Faire participants, etc. We’re all in this.)

So, thank you Steve Davee and Labor Day for giving us an excuse to reflect on our labors.

Gareth Branwyn

Gareth Branwyn is a freelancer writer and the former Editorial Director of Maker Media. He is the author or editor of a dozen books on technology, DIY, and geek culture, including the first book about the web (Mosaic Quick Tour) and the Absolute Beginner’s Guide to Building Robots. He is currently working on a best-of collection of his writing, called Borg Like Me.


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Comments

  1. Blake Lowe says:

    I work at a shoe store, where I do repairs and make orthotics for customers. There’s a gentleman I’ve done a couple pairs of orthotics for, and I’ve heard the story about the car accident that left him unable to walk without crutches. I normally stay in my shop, in the back of the store, and hardly ever get a chance to talk to anyone who uses the orthotics or modification I do, and usually, it’s not such a dramatic case. When this guy got his first pair of inserts for his shoes, he graduated from crutches to walking unassisted, eventually leading up to him walking a mile a day for fun and exercise. By the time I had done the second pair, he could walk unassisted five miles a day. He hardly had any use for the crutches anymore. The last time he came in, he needed a slight modification done to his shoe to improve his gait. I did it while he waited, and my employer, who was helping him, was taking a phone call. I took the shoes out to him on the sales floor, where he put them on, and walked immediately out the door so he could try them out on the sidewalk at full speed. He was walking with no noticeable difficulty, and his gait was no more irregular than any old joe’s. I was pleased with that moment, seeing my work in action makes me feel good. It got serious when he came back, greeted the guy who was helping him who was back from his phone call, and introduced himself to me. I kind of asked him some b.s. “how do they feel” kinda questions, because he was getting emotional, and he looked right at me and said “thank you, I really appreciate it.” The work I do is pretty minimal most of the time, occasionally I have to do a major modification, and it’s important to a lot of these people that my work is invisible; people get embarrassed to have a clunky shoe lift or modification. Hearing him give me honest appreciation was exciting and humbling. I never realized how important my job is to some people, most of whom are happy to just feel normal. Sometimes normal, invisible, and successful is better than feeling great or more.

  2. That guy in the picture, I’ve met him in Prague- he has his own little hut that he brings out for festivals and the like. I bought a bell from him, very much like the ones above his right shoulder. The kids and I watched him make another bell for a good long time out there on the street, they thought that would be a cool job.

  3. Rob says:

    As a reader, it’s nice to know that the appreciation that we feel for the magazine is understood in the way that you had the opportunity in which to understand it. The effort that you all go through to put MAKE together is abundantly clear. And it *is* appreciated.

    Honestly, just about every other “mainstream” magazine I read (across many genres) has been reduced to an ad billboard with enough content thrown in to string the reader base along for another subscription renewal. All the “renew now” notices that I get from all of them, sometimes multiple times per month even though my subscription isn’t due to expire for a year or more, make it clear that most magazines are just in business to collect maximum advertisement dollars based on their number of subscribers (their ridiculously low subscription cost makes it abundantly clear that the readers are just paying for shipping any more and the ad dollars are doing everything else).

    But that’s what makes MAKE stand out… you don’t do any of that stupid stuff. You load in the ridiculously useful content, you provide information that’s desperately needed in today’s world of disposable consumerism, you show dedication to *editorial excellence*, and you ask a fair price in exchange for not having to suffer through tens of tens of pages of incipidly banal advertisments for “new and improved” and “now even crappier” crap. What few ads you do have are valuable and relevant. I’m guessing the response rate your advertisers get is one of the best in the business. If I had a business that wanted to offer a good relevant maker-oriented product and reach qualified people, you can bet that MAKE would be the first place I’d go to advertise.

    But MAKE isn’t just a magazine, it’s a banner that stands above the crowd and says “I’m mad as hell (about the crap that’s sold), and I’m not gonna not make it anymore!” (or something like that). MAKE is reminding folks, both young and old, that they can do stuff themselves… I can’t think of another magazine so widely circulated that says “YOU can create/make/fix/improve your world” in the way that MAKE does.

    So yeah, what you’re doing and what everyone else there is doing absolutely MATTERS. It’s worth it. The long hours, stressful deadlines, empassioned discussions about what “needs to be included no matter what”, frustrations, etc… those are all worth it. We the readers take notice of the passion that goes into such a production (I sure do). We respect the fact that everyone who works for MAKE is a MAKER by default… you’re making an exemplary magazine every single day that you’re there.

    So kudos, to you and to everyone else there. Many, many, many kudos. MAKE is an example that the rest of the magazine publishing industry ought to be paying attention to. It might not seem like it from your perspective, but MAKE has re-written the book on what it means to BE a magazine publishing company. Keep up the passion, keep up the commitment, keep up the spirit of progress… what you’re doing is most worthy!

In the Maker Shed