I’m humbled that Keyan Zandy of The Lean Builder asked me to share an excerpt from my new book, Seven Principles: Creating Your Success in the Construction Industry.
After spending over three decades in the industry, honing my skills and helping others improve their skills, I sat down to distill my thinking on what truly drives success. I’ve identified seven principles to help people achieve success in their careers and in life.
I’m sharing two of those principles in this blog and hope you find useful nuggets and inspiration as you set goals for your own journey.
Creating Your Success in the Construction Industry
To have an excuse is to possess a reason why you cannot achieve something.
Ask anyone about their past, and you will hear a story, some filled with joy and others with tremendous hardship. For those who have suffered enduring hardships (me included), it can become effortless to make excuses about why you cannot achieve. Pursue and commit to endeavors designed to improve yourself, your family, and your community. I can identify with being a victim in the workplace. As a Black man, I am very familiar with racism and preferential treatment for others in the workplace. I can recall many people laughing in my face when I was seeking employment as a young journeyman. I remember seeing others pass me by for promotions with less knowledge, skills, and experience, but they knew someone. They had connections that I did not possess.
I once lived in the victim mentality mode. I was typically the youngest person on my crew, as well as a person of color. I felt intimidated by everyone else’s years of experience and seeming ease of problem solving in our day-to-day tasks. I often took a back seat when it came to giving an opinion or addressing a work plan. I felt inadequate within myself. No one ever had to scorn me because I carried the burden on my own like a tool-belt. It was exhausting, debilitating, and prevented me from experiencing any kind of success. It is what ultimately made it easy for me to leave the trade. After all, since I spent more time thinking I would not be successful in this industry, why keep trying? That was my mentality. That was me being a victim of my own set of beliefs and circumstances.
Somewhere along my journey, I learned that I had to first believe in myself. Why would anyone else if I could not? I realized that the baggage of being a victim could not co-exist with a successful mindset. One had to die. I chose success.
As I speak to potential new hires in the programs I work with, I hear many stories about why achievement may not be possible, but I dare those same individuals to think about why they can achieve.
So, you came from a broken home, you are an immigrant, a woman, new to the industry, still learning the English language, or never witnessed true success in your family or even in your community. Yet perhaps you are the one to start a new path and set the tone for those who are watching you. Maybe you are the one to create something new.
A victim mentality will always find an excuse for coming into work late, not showing up at all, or failing to take instructions from their boss. Likewise, there will always be a reason that seems justified in their minds to defy authority, quit, or simply not show up at all psychologically and prepared to work.
Like many other trade managers, I seek to employ people who show up on time, are eager to work, are open to becoming a part of a larger team, are willing to learn, and want to work hard every day. It seems like common sense, but I am here to tell you there is nothing common about it, unfortunately.
A person with a victim mentality cannot fit into the mainstream of a thriving workforce because he or she will always find an excuse when they fail to meet objectives, defer their responsibility, or fail to find solutions. This mentality quickly becomes tiresome to a field leader and unfair to the team he or she is working with; therefore, removal from the crew is typically the outcome.
If you have found yourself exhibiting the victim mentality, recognize that this mentality leads to disappointment for you and your employer, even if the circumstances are genuinely unfair. You will be the first to be removed from a team that is striving to become better. Those who carry themselves as victims are draining and need maintenance that minimizes their value to the team. So do not become that person. Stop making excuses for what you do not know or why you have not reached a goal. As long as you are alive, there is still time to get there.
Look into the mirror of your own life and say, “This new day begins with me!” The past is the past. It’s a new day filled with opportunity, and it is about time that I begin to walk in it!
So, if this is an area you need help with, the first step to improving is realizing you have an issue. The next step is to seek help on how to rectify it. The fix may not occur overnight, but it starts in the right direction when you begin to address it head-on. The next step would be to start implementing practices based on the new information you discovered.
I do not intend to oversimplify any issues or struggles that anyone has in life or propose a one-stop-shop cure-all approach, however, if you want to make it in the construction business, you need to have your game face on every day. We are highly compensated, and our employers need to see our appreciation for the opportunities they provide, by us bringing our “A-Game” every day. Anything less is unacceptable. So, stop seeing yourself as a victim to anything or anyone and work on ways to empower yourself with what you need to overcome in every situation that you experience. Think of a challenge as your opportunity to shine.
At the end of the day, nothing will ever replace hard work, and you will never choose to do your best if you are only working for a paycheck.
Working hard seems to be a lost art with many people these days. We look for praise for doing the simplest of things at times. This mindset will undoubtedly short circuit your career path in the construction industry and any other industry for that matter. If you want to be successful, coming to work must be about the work and only the work. The praise, accolades, and promotions will come in due time. When your focus becomes about accomplishing the task in the most efficient and safe manner, you are on track for success.
As a kid, my father always had me doing something that involved work. Whether I was doing chores inside the house, pulling weeds in the front yard, or watching him change the oil or brakes in the family car. I learned very early that working hard was not only necessary but essential to maintaining a good and balanced life.
Every day I watched my father go to work; sometimes, he had more than one job. He woke up early every day and always showed up without excuse. I had no idea how observing this would become so critically important later in my life and its influence on my career. He was giving me an invaluable tool that would prove to be the keystone to my success, which is known as a “work ethic.” So, what is work ethic, you ask? Well, let’s break it down.
- According to Webster’s dictionary, “work” is defined as— Exertion of strength or faculties; physical or intellectual effort directed to an end; industrial activity; toil; employment; sometimes, specifically, physical labor.
- According to Webster’s dictionary, “ethic” is defined as— the principles of right and wrong that are accepted by an individual or a social group or a system of principles governing morality and acceptable conduct.
I do not claim to be a psychologist or linguist. Still, when I combine the two definitions, I would define work ethic as:
- a set of principles that govern how one views what is acceptable or proper when it comes to being employed, conducting a task, or performing work for an employer.
Again, seeing my father go to work every day did something to my psyche, so as I became older, staying in bed late on weekends or not participating in the family chores was not commonplace. Of course, every one of us loves to sleep in from time to time but practicing that was not the norm as I was growing up. This pattern became a part of my DNA, directly tied to my experiences as a boy. Your work ethic will establish how you choose to engage and pursue your career. Whether it is in the trades, college, or any other line of business, think of it like this.
How far can you throw a rock? Imagine that rock you have thrown is your goal. Your work ethic will either help you reach the rock in a straight line (which is the shortest distance) or have you moving in circles due to endless distractions and obstacles. Without an excellent work ethic, we will spoil our reputation and fail to reach our goals.
Case in point. When I was a first-year apprentice, I went to school twice a week from 7:30-10:00 p.m. So that meant after working eight hours somewhere in the Bay Area, I had to travel to school, occupy myself for several hours because it was too far to drive home, and return in time. I usually got food and took a nap in my car until class started. Once class was over at 10:00 p.m., I typically arrived home around 10:45 p.m. I showered and went to bed, only to arise the following morning around 4:30 a.m. to get to work on time (usually with 30 minutes to spare).
I did this at some level for my entire apprenticeship; although my class times finally changed after the first year, it was still challenging. The point is if my work ethic did not align with the expectations assigned for work and school, I would not have made it through successfully. Instead, I would have found excuses or reasons to justify why it was simply too hard, which would have resulted in my prematurely giving up like so many people I know have done.
Some students I ran across had been in their apprenticeships for more than seven years, yet they were still technically only second or third-year apprentices according to the actual hours in their schooling. I do not know why this occurred, but I imagine the lack of work ethic in the classroom was a contributor. As a result, they struggled and failed the program instead of seeking the help they needed to succeed.
Your work ethic is critical for success, and if yours has a history of keeping you down, it is time to change it.
Once I began working, I never missed a day. It did not matter if I were sick or not. I just showed up every day, ready to put in my eight hours for my crew. Something in me felt I would be letting them down if I were not there on any particular day for any reason. I saw myself as part of a larger team, and it did not matter if I was sweeping a floor, sealing ductwork, or fetching material; someone counted on me to perform that task, and I could not let them down by missing any days. Showing up was the only option, as I learned from my father.
Nothing will ever replace hard work nor substitute for it, hard work can offset other proficiencies that you may lack. For instance, when I first got started in the trade, I had zero experience in sheet metal. I was one of the first to arrive at work and consistently one of the last to leave. I performed my task and tried to anticipate the next move of my journeyperson. I was able to make up for what I did not know by working extra hard. Sometimes, this came in the form of studying longer for my classes, asking for extra help from my instructors or journeypersons, and always giving 110% at work.
As I gained experience working with other journeypersons, I realized that if I always gave it my all, asked questions if I did not understand something, and said, “Yes sir, no sir” to the instructions given to me, I would be successful. I was not always the smartest apprentice on the job site, but my colleagues could not match my work ethic. I out-shined others by simply working hard, and not kowtowing, and guess what, it worked!
I learned that even the grouchiest journeyperson would be willing to pass on essential skills and tricks of the trade to someone who showed effort. I recall many times during my apprenticeship where I had different journeypersons take me under their wings and show me what they knew. One, in particular, would yell things like, “I need an older guy.” Of course, since I was only 19 when I got into the trade, I was typically the youngest on my crew, I was perpetually teased for it, but I took it in stride and made the best of it.
Guys like Virgil (a seasoned professional journeyman) helped me understand the “dos and don’ts” of the business, and I was always taking mental notes. I watched how he interacted with his colleagues and the other trade partners, and I took note of which people were laid off first and why. Sometimes, he and others taught me things that I should not do as a worker, I often learned just by mere observation.
Another great thing happening behind the scenes as you are working hard is the reputation you are building with your crew. As you will learn very quickly, the construction industry is a relatively small community, and you will go as far as your reputation will take you. If your reputation is established as being a lazy and unreliable apprentice, guess what? It will be tough to change that reputation once you become a full-fledged journeyperson. Your reputation will follow you and either hinder or promote your career. Think about that on every job you perform.
As you enter the workforce, never compare yourself to anyone. Yes, there will always be competition, and someone is waiting and willing to take your job. Still, if you acquire the discipline of working diligently and eventually add the required tools and knowledge, your only competition will be with yourself. So, do not become your own worst enemy by choosing not to work earnestly or by making excuses about why you did not or cannot fulfill a task.
“Give it your best shot” is a term I often heard growing up in my household. Still, I do not take it for granted that most homes receive that instruction, so take the information I am sharing as an essential tool to become successful with your choices for your future.
If you’d like to learn the other principles, I invite you to get a copy of the book on Amazon. Thanks for being with me on this journey.