In the Trenches: The Optimist

In the sign business, there is a serious downside to always being a "glass half full" guy and always seeing things from an optimistic viewpoint.

Well, the shop has been pretty busy lately, and it may be time to consider adding another person to the payroll. But, that person’s job description might be a bit different than what I have considered previously. In fact, I’m a bit tempted to put a banner out by the road reading:

“Pessimist Wanted – Apply Inside.”

Of course, since people who are consistently pessimistic probably don’t view themselves that way, and those who are optimists would think it was a joke, I don’t think any job applicants would bother showing up.

But, I have been giving this some serious thought, and I have come to realize that the main reason our sign shop doesn’t run the way I want it to and have the profit margins it ought to have, is the guy running the place is just way too optimistic for his own danged good. And that guy is me.

Of course, being naturally optimistic is generally considered an asset, and in a lot of ways, I suppose it is. However, at least in the sign business, there is a serious downside to always being a “glass half full” guy and always seeing things from an optimistic viewpoint.

This means I am always thinking positively and underestimating how long something will take, how hard or challenging it will be, or even how dangerous. And any job that is more difficult, or requires more caution, and takes longer to complete than planned, simply means we’ll get less done and make less money than we should have… and we do that all the time.

Speaking for myself, I’ve become quite professional at being unprofessionally optimistic.

So much so that recently I’ve decided to try to track exactly how far off I am, and the numbers just don’t lie. For example, I worked a long weekend recently to complete a very large sign that I basically built by myself (therefore, there’s no one else to blame), and at the end of one day was down to installing five 4′ x 8′ face panels on each side plus some trim to finish. I calculated that when I returned, it would take 15 minutes to position and put about 30 screws in each face, which would be an hour and a quarter per side, times two, or two and a half hours to finish.

Well, I struggled a bit with the first side, then thought I was doing better on the second, but when I had finished with all the panels and did the math, it really took five hours to do the job, or exactly twice as long as expected. And the timing of other projects I’ve tackled lately has revealed the same results. So, the fact is I’m not really a “glass half full” guy as much as I am a guy who is precisely “half full of it.”

So, much like the Lone Ranger needed Tonto, and Batman needed Robin, this sign maker optimist needs his pessimistic counterpart to keep him on track.

I need someone to tell me, “You can’t do that in a day! Who do you think you are, Superman?”

And, “That price is a joke, right? “Do you realize how many steps are in that job, not to mention dealing with that committee from the Community Cowboy Prosperity Church? We’ve dealt with them before!”

Or, “Come on, wake up and smell the coffee, you’re going to need it when you’re working down here through the night!”

Yep, that sounds about like what I’ve needed around here for a long time. Perhaps it won’t require an honest-to-goodness pessimist, just a very reliable realist. A realist with the nerve to straighten out the boss, deflate his ego a little, burst his bubble when he needs it. What I need… is a wife.

Oops, I’ve got one of those already, and mine is much too smart to work down here! Too smart, too beautiful, too sophisticated (and a reader of these Trenches articles, too.)

I guess, for now, it’s going to still be up to me, but I do need to wise up a bit. My daughter, Lacey, after just a few weeks of kindergarten, had figured her dad out, and remarked, “Dad, you don’t know everything, do you? Maybe you need to go to a school for adults.” I’m sure she was right then, and right now. Oh, I’m trying to get smarter, it just takes me an extra-long time.

But, I hope you’re shop is doing well, all your bids are right on the money, and the money includes a healthy profit margin every time. Have a great month.


Rick Williams

Rick Williams owns Rick's Sign Company, a commercial sign shop in Longview, Texas. He has been in the sign industry since 1973 and has been a contributing editor to Sign Business, Sign & Digital Graphics, and GRAPHICS PRO since 1986. Contact Rick via email at ricksignco@aol.com.

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