Hard Work

I was asked a question in comments:

What are three things you have absolutely worked the hardest on in your lives? I mean long and hard, nothing gonna stop you.

and I decided to respond here rather than in the comment thread.

I suppose (as was suggested in comments) that the question hinges on the operative definitions of “long”, “hard”, and “worked”. I’ve worked extremely hard on some things over the years so I probably won’t stop at just three.

When I was in college I put more than 100 hours of research each into two papers, different fields, neither my major. One paper weighed in at 80 pages, the other at 150. The professors for whose classes I had written the papers each called me into his office and told me that with a few revisions he could get the paper published. I demurred.

Indeed, I worked pretty hard all the way through college and grad school. In addition to being a full-time student carrying a course load with extra credits I worked 30 hours a week.

Under rather odd circumstances I was hired as a consultant by a department other than the one I managed to manage a major product roll-out. It was a 24 hour a day job that took several weeks to complete. I worked one twelve hour shift, the department’s manager the other. In the process I redesigned some basic components of the product.

For another employer I worked for six weeks, sixteen hours a day, designing and managing the development of a new product on behalf of a prospective customer. The effort resulted in closing the largest sale in the history of the (Fortune 500) company.

On another occasion we had three weeks to complete a project for the Federal Reserve—scanning, indexing, and processing a half million pages worth of documents. Another round-the-clock project. I managed the project in addition to working a solid shift manning the scanner, a grueling, physical job.

I spent one summer in Huntsville, Alabama producing a product for my Fortune 500 client on behalf of their Fortune 500 customer. I’d fly down on the earliest flight on Monday morning, work twelve hours a day Monday through Friday, and then fly out on the last flight to leave Huntsville on Friday. I did that for three months. I think the product is still in use in some form or other and any number of you may actually have used it.

There were other intensive efforts for shorter periods. For example, I once worked 36 hours running. I had uncovered a major problem in an order being prepared for an important customer of the steel mill for which I worked at the time. Top management came out to hear me explain what I had found and why it was important. Standing on the skids in the pouring rain at 3:00am in the morning. I was later told my efforts had saved the account.

Back in my liturgical music director days every Holy Week (Holy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and Easter) I put in something like 40 hours in planning, preparation, practice, and the liturgies themselves. On Saturday and Sunday I worked straight through from 9:00pm in the evening on Saturday through about noon on Sunday. That’s on top of holding down a full-time real job. I did that for about 15 years.

Most recently, after my mom died I worked two days a week, twelve hours a day for about four months after my mom died sorting, cataloguing, and boxing my mom’s possessions for distribution among my siblings and me. It was hard, miserable work, much of it alone, in grief, and in an empty house. Maybe the hardest thing I’ve ever done.

Marriage? It’s been a joy. My wife is the one who’s had the hard work.

31 comments… add one
  • Drew Link

    Dave, dammit, you can’t tease me like that. You worked for a steel mill? I worked as a process engineer for what was the Inland Steel Company. (now Mittal) for 7 years. Roughly half in a BOF steel making shop and half at galvanizing lines. (one year doing failure analysis for mill equipment)

    You don’t have to say where, but in what capacity and facilities?

  • Laclede Steel in Granite City, Illinois, now reincarnated as Alton Steel. An old, chickenshit operation with antiquated equipment. How old? I think it opened its doors in 1898 and they had barely upgraded the equipment since then. The shop drawings were so old they were literally falling apart. Smelt mill, hot mill, wire mill, rod mill.

    They hired me to gather the numbers to justify implementing QA at all levels of the operation if you can imagine such a thing. Up to that time they had only been doing QA at the shipping dock. Practically made you cry.

  • Drew Link

    I know it well.

    Of course, you know the old saw with some of those products. “if it sinks in water….ship it.”

  • steve Link

    Training was pretty hard. I worked full time as an undergrad and through med school, but the school itself was not that hard. Residency itself may have been the hardest. We averaged about 100 hours a week in our second year (first and third were much easier). Never went past 50 hours straight w/o sleep, though a few of us did. The worst may have been a trauma case where I went about 12-14 hours w/o peeing. Most physically demanding was baling hay and filling sandbags for an expected flood.


  • steve Link

    Addendum- Not sure it is work per se, but the hardest individual thing is telling a mother her child died. I can take the fathers, but I have a hard time looking at the mothers.


  • Drew Link


    Do you have view on the “continuity of care” rationale for working residents to the bone?

  • jan Link

    1) Getting my BS in nursing. It was a time when I was going through many transitions: rebelling against my parents, juggling work, college, being on my own, and falling in and out of love, all at the same time.

    2) Working on one of our first house rehab projects. We bought a small house in a gang-infested area of the community. It was complete with bullet holes, overgrown everything, holes in the floors, busted out walls and grease were the predominent interior features. My husband and I worked from dawn till way past dark every day. I often worked alone, and bolted myself inside. It was a brutal time of no resources, my husband getting sick, and trying to meet financial deadlines. We lived through it, sold the property and life got better after that.

    3) Going through estate issues after my husband’s father died. First there was the grief of loss. Then there was the sibling strife, conflict, and dueling lawyers. The family tensions that descended on everyone was overwhelming, reinforcing the adage that money indeed can be the root of much evil.

  • Drew Link


    So jan, where exactly was that? I’ve had my experiences in, er, subpar, neighborhoods. But I do have to say, no bullet holes.

    Dave – so I was thinking. You’ve been in the environment. I’ve told my steam explosion story. Wire mills are no issue. Rod mills can have cobbles. You can be dead in three seconds. How did you find the experience?

    In a steel making shop you can die in a second under certain circumstances. But you know the danger signs. Its all about explosions. We used to give tours to the sales people and customers. We’d intentionally walk right next to the steel making furnace, this horrific ball of fire going up the chute and spitting out sparks and falling all around us, because we knew there was absolutely no danger, but the novices were scared shitless. Great fun. (no, I didn’t pull the wings from flies as a kid).

  • Ben Wolf Link

    Off-topic: Maybe things aren’t so hot in Germany.


  • Rod mills can have cobbles. You can be dead in three seconds. How did you find the experience?

    I’ve been within a few feet of a red/white hot billet going through the mill and cobbling ten, fifteen feet into the air. On the one hand it was beautiful in a deadly volcanic sort of way but on the other it meant the mill was down for a whole shift clearing the mess.

    It was good experience for the short time I was there but I wouldn’t have wanted to make a career of it.

  • Drew Link


    Yes, for some reason there is a sort of irrational romantic association with the massive scale of steel making and the fire and red metal etc.

    But it does eventually get old.

  • Andy Link

    My father-in-law is a lifelong steelworker, so that’s my tie to that industry. I’ve never been in a plant, but he’s told some good stories.

  • PD Shaw Link

    Trial work. Particularly involving complex commercial disputes before a jury — you have to assume they lack personal experience in the area and need instruction, but you can’t bore them. Particularly if you’re the plaintiff, you have a story to prove, the defendant does not necessarily. Particularly in federal court, you may get little warning of the trial start date, so you have little choice but to ramp up hard when it looks like its your turn; also, longer court hours in the federal court means less time to prepare during normal hours of the day while the trial is going on.

    You are relying upon witnesses that very often are not comfortable in this role; you can prepare some, but you can’t prepare them to come across as robots. The witnesses will often fail or act unpredictably in some way. The whole process is one of constant revision and adjustment until the end. You have to try to sleep each night to stay sharp, and realize that when the jury is in the room, your performance is being judged just like the witnesses.

  • michael reynolds Link

    Marriage? It’s been a joy. My wife is the one who’s had the hard work.

    Ah, so your wife reads the blog. Got it. Mum’s the word.

  • Ah, so your wife reads the blog.

    She reads it occasionally. I doubt she’d ever see that remark unless I brought it to her attention. Which I won’t.

  • jan Link

    It was early inner Venice, CA days — drugs, motorcycle gangs and racial wars. It has become gentrified, over the years, with far fewer police helicopters circling overhead!

  • steve Link

    Drew- Mixed feelings about it. I think we have gone a little too soft on them. We had hellish residencies in my day, but we were well prepared for practice when we left. You learned a lot by doing cases from start to finish. OTOH, it is pretty hard to totally ignore the data on impairment. Still, I dont think you can achieve perfect, and I would not be so strict on hours limits if I were making the decisions. (How is that for a definite maybe?)


  • Drew Link


    How is that for a definite maybe?

    The world is defined by uncertainty, doubt and judgment. I, of course, have perfect analysis and judgment. (snicker).

    I understand completely. I know it’s a big issue in medicine. I just wondered how you thought about it.

  • The hardest job I’ve ever had was bringing my brother out of stage four Hodgkins that attacked the platelets, the clotting ability, of his blood.

    He’s an elegant man, and to this day, I have have a problem not calling him “moosebreath.”

  • michael reynolds Link

    Okay, fine. 11 days in jail. That was hard.

  • Drew Link

    Only 11?

    Shocking, really.

  • Drew Link


    I’m not a doctor, but stage four, really? Wow. Stage four anything is not good. For what it’s worth, my sister was diagnosed with a very rare c enteral nervous lymphoma four years ago and given nine months. She’s still kick’n. Bless her heart. They threw the kitchen sink at it, and it’s had it’s effects, but she’s still going. I’m getting emotional so I’m gonna go now. Best to your brother.

  • Andy Link


    FWIW, I did 38 days. It wasn’t too bad though, probably because it was a military jail.

  • It would have been a comparative walk in the park if he hadn’t been misdiagnosed for two years, Drew. I should have stepped in sooner, but that’s hard to do without an invitation.

    My vocabulary expanded beyond new medical terms at the time.

    It’s been three years for him. Best to your sister, too.

  • Great post! I can relate, as I myself am still slogging through 12-16 hour days, mostly 6 days a week, into year 11 now, running, or at least trying to run a business. Of course my work ethic didn’t just begin 11 years ago, that’s just they way we have to roll to get ahead. Now, it’s back to work.

  • steve Link
  • Suddenly I feel lazy even though I have had many long days while deployed. Thanks for the motivation!

  • Drew Link

    I’m surrounded by reprobates……

  • Ann Julien Link

    i want the rest of the steel mill story.
    what did you find? when was this?

  • Drew Link

    i want the rest of the steel mill story.
    what did you find? when was this?

    Is this directed at Dave, or me. I suspect Dave.

  • Is this directed at Dave, or me. I suspect Dave.

    That’s my sister, Drew. It was directed at me.

    There really isn’t much more to the story. After a while I wrote a lengthy report that found they’d save scads of dough if they put QA at each transition in the process, i.e. from hot mill to rough mill, from rough mill to finishing mill, from finishing mill to shipping rather than just at shipping.

    Then I went on to greener pastures.

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