Are You Whistling While You Work?

On a recent morning walk, I approached a house on a corner lot that was having a new roof installed. The old shingles were gone and the crew had begun the removal of layers of heavy tar paper. Since I was approaching from the back, I watched as the workers picked up the layers, hoisted them above their heads, walked up and over the peak, where I could then hear a thud as they threw the tar piles into a rolloff. The tar paper was so heavy that when the workers picked it up, their arms shook until they got the weight balanced just right above their heads to make each trip. It made my trapezius muscles cramp just to watch them. 

As I got closer, I thought I heard a radio, but the music wasn’t familiar. Within short order, I realized it was one of the workers, whistling and singing. He would sing as he picked up the layers and carried them, then whistle on his way back. Back and forth, laboring heavily, breathing hard, whistling and singing.  Like Snow White’s dwarfs, while he worked. At 7 in the morning. I don’t know if he actually was happy, but he sure sounded like it. 

“How many people are so happy at work they want to whistle?” I thought. “For that matter, am I so happy at work I want to whistle?” I realized that some days, life is so good, I definitely could break into song, and if I could, whistle. Other days, life is still pretty good, but I put my own head-trash filters on it, like, “I’ll never get everything done today,” or “I wish I hadn’t overcommitted.” If I remember to change my attitude, (i.e. “I will get enough done today,” and “It’s ok to say no”) I’d have a lot more whistle-worthy work days.  

Some of the people I have the honor of helping are not having whistle-worthy work days anymore. A merger, or life circumstances, have brought them to a crossroads, and they want to know if it’s safe to make a change. Sometimes all we need is a change in attitude, but other times the change must be more disruptive, and costly. The price for that kind of change feels awfully high, but, if you can’t whistle while you work, there’s a price being paid for that, too.  

Martha Washington said, “…the greater part of our happiness or misery depends on our dispositions and not on our circumstances.” Since that morning walk, I’ve been remembering the image of the roofer, and calling on it when something doesn’t quite go the way I would like. A guy lifting 50 pounds of tar paper over and over and over, every morning, whistling while he works – to me, sets the bar pretty high for attitude adjustment.  

Maybe I’ll learn to whistle.


Holly Donaldson

Holly Donaldson, CFP® runs an hourly and fee-for-service financial planning practice virtually from her Tampa Bay, Florida office. She also works with clients throughout the U.S. (except Texas) interested in retirement and tax planning advice without product sales or investment management. Holly is the author of The Mindful Money Mentality: How to Find Balance in Your Financial Future (Porchview Publishing, 2013) and publisher of the award-winning monthly e-letter, "The View From the Porch."

Leave a Reply