a person wearing a hard hat

The Hero’s Journey(man)

Solidarity Sunday: The Hero's Journey(man)

I watched "Arnold" about the life of Arnold Schwarzenegger on Netflix recently. It's a great watch if you haven't seen it. He is the .01% of 1% who could manifest a vision in his mind at a young age and calculate every move in order to hit that goal. That's a talent from God that 99.9% of us just don't have.

He's a ridiculously wealthy self-made man who runs in highbrow circles of which we can only imagine. So why is his story relatable at all?

Because his life follows a story arch that we're all familiar with even if we don't know it; the hero's journey. The hero's journey is about a character who comes from humble beginnings and overcomes obstacles to be become the best version of themselves…to fulfill a destiny. Arnold's journey led him to become arguably one the most accomplished human beings ever.

What does this have to do with local unions and organizing?

In every hero's journey there is a mentor. Someone who's sees the potential in the would-be hero (even when others don't) and helps him or her along the way. The mentor usually shows up at the point in the story when the hero recognizes that what they're doing currently isn't working, and they've reached the point where the pain of staying the same is greater than the pain to change. Enter the mentor, who provides the training and guidance to get hero where he/she needs to go.

Sounds like the journeyman/apprentice model to me. Heck, "Journey" is even in the title! This is a great story to tell. A young person full of unrealized potential meets the mentor who provides the hands-on training to help them become the best version of themselves. In Arnold's life, that mentor was Joe Weider. In the lives of the young people we recruit, that role is played by the journeyman.

I sat with a group of 10-12 journeymen at lunch last week and the subject turned to the journeymen they had worked for over the years. The table lit up with energy as everyone began swapping funny stories of their days as an apprentice and how their journeyman helped them out. What they learned, how they grew from it, and how it shaped them as a professional in their trade, and how they passed it on when they became journeymen themselves.

I see lots of marketing material out there that local unions publish and most of it has to do with wages & benefits. They talk about what they do and how they do it, rather than why. What separates us from the non-union sector and provides us an advantage that cannot be matched is the fact that the journeyman apprentice mentorship model is instantiated in our culture. That story doesn't get told enough.

In reality as in fiction, every success story has a mentor. Journeymen can be the mentors that young people need to make them a better version of themselves and cultivate a union culture that cannot be matched.

Speaking of mentors...

Talk about a hero's journey! Dave Tzemenatos has 7 children. Not only is he a great dad and mentor to his kids, he came up through the apprenticeship track and turned out as a journeyman sheet metal worker with SMART Local 85 years ago. He worked his way into a career where he is now Field Operations Manager of McKenney's, a large signatory mechanical contractor in Atlanta, GA. Dave comes from long line of sheet metal workers and now is a mentor for others coming through a similar path. He joined "Talkin Trades", a podcast we created for the Atlanta North Georgia Building Trades, a.k.a. GeorgiaConstructionCareers.com to tell his story.


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