“The achievement of goal is important. But the real juice of life, whether it is sweet or bitter, is to be found not nearly so much in the products of our efforts as in the process of living itself, in how it feels to be alive.” — Mastery by George Leonard
Last week I was upset, I don’t even remember why. What I do remember however is the distinct desire I had, in that moment, to tell a certain person that I disapproved of him. Without any real thought, without realizing what I was doing, I accidentally let these words quietly and firmly slip from my mouth, “go pound sand!”
Saying these words caught even myself by surprise, mostly because I don’t recall ever using this phrase before at any other time in my life. Why did it come out now? I wasn’t sure. More puzzling even still was that I didn’t, at that time, fully understand what the phrase means or where it comes from. Of course, I know how to use it in a sentence, everyone does. Buzz off. Get lost. Go. Pound. Sand.
The truth is that it felt really good to say it. Almost too good. I even repeated it again but more loudly and playfully this time. Why did I like it? Because the phrase is perfectly derogatory and menacing but it isn’t outright profane. It’s like saying “bloody” with a fake British accent, knowing full well that the word is vulgar but having little if any social context that would render it offensive. See, with “go pound sand” I could keep my moral high ground while hurling a disdainful command at my antagonizer. I could be totally gobby without my mum getting miffed and having everything go all to pot. A bit much? Righty-oh. Carry on, chap.
What’s more interesting is that the phrase “go pound sand” is used as an insult in our modern day but that hasn’t always been the case. There was a time when pounding sand had great utility and purpose.
Sometime in the 19th century, pounding sand became a reference to “menial, and often pointless, labor.”* But for hundreds of years prior, sand pounding was actually a profession, even a career for some. Pounding sand was a key job performed in the mines, a labor-intensive manual task of digging into the earth with a pick-ax. To say it was intellectually stimulating, however, would be nothing short of an exaggeration. Although the task could be done by almost anyone able-bodied, it still required great health, commitment, and will. Chiseling away at rock each day, working tirelessly week after week, this was life for many men whom we should admire because without them we may not be here today. Let me explain.
Most of these mines, the ones requiring constant manual pounding, were made of salt. The mining of salt was part of a common industrial process of taking sodium chloride from the earth and breaking it down into small enough pieces to be sold as a good. Salt mining was one of the greatest industrial components of the world economy. This salt had many uses, it was not just a key component to cooking good food (see my other post about salt and cooking), but it was also vital for the preservation of consumable goods that would have been perishable. Remember, the refrigerator and electricity had not yet been invented.
Salt was incredibly important to the survival of a growing world economy. With more people came less food to go around, and extending the shelf life was necessary for importing and exporting to growing populations. Without salt, there could be no booming industrial Detroit, no sprawling San Francisco, no river-dependent Chicago. Without salt, food would spoil and humans would go hungry.
Thus, working in the salt mines was actually a job of great contribution to the world. Knowing this, a salt miner could take pride in his work, showing up diligently each day, standing aside his coworkers, putting his energy to task, taking joy in the product of his labor.
It were these facts that brought me to the conclusion that the phrase “go pound sand” should not be a derogatory term. Quite the opposite.
To go and pound sand actually means something altogether different. It means to do the work set before you and to do it well, even if it doesn’t feel rewarding or interesting in the moment. It means to diligently and sincerely work hard at your craft even when it begins to feel mundane or uninteresting. It means to show up each day, put your energy into your work, stay committed, consistent, believing in the greater purpose of your job. It means that even when you find yourself in a plateau, you still perform as if you are summiting a peak.
Furthermore, doing your work in this manner, with a relentless commitment to pounding sand, to do even the smallest and worst tasks to the best of your ability, this is the height of happiness, joy, and pride. When you focus on a task and give it your best you will end up feeling lifted, proud of your accomplishment, and proud of yourself.
Pounding sand will give you joy and pride and make the world a better place.
Go pound sand.