All of our unsung heroes — from the pump operators to anyone who forms, places, or finishes concrete — generate concrete stories all season long. Like a summer thunderstorm, they pop up without notice.
We know what it’s like to reminisce over past dream jobs when we flawlessly placed a few hundred yards a day, to rehashing our nightmare jobs where we nearly lost a slab, or recalling together the time the overdig caved in before we stripped the footers. Sharing such stories becomes more than a mere pastime for us; passing on our collective stories presents several surprising benefits.
Sure, sometimes we get tired of hearing the same worn-out tales from the old-timer who repeats himself regularly, but out of respect, we listen to him one more time. And we get annoyed with the new guy who tries to one-up everyone with his stories that stretch credibility. But overall, the stories we share are a positive part of working in concrete.
Here is why our stories count: When you started in concrete, there wasn’t a seasoned old man there handing you a manual or lecturing from a textbook about the concrete world. You learned about safety from some very scary stories when things went terribly bad. You gained respect for your leaders because of the stories about them that were being passed around. And you treasured the value of teamwork through the stories you heard, all while wishing you were part of those stories. Then you “grew up” and became part of a few good stories yourself, which you have to admit was more rewarding than your first bonus.
We also are shaped by the stories we hear. Powerful stories inspire us to work harder and do our best when the conditions are the worst. Hopefully, we develop a stronger work ethic as we hear a good story that called for hard work and sacrifice by the crew that exceeded expectations. Plus, we grow personally when we learn something new from the really good ones. We can always learn a new skill or a better way of working with concrete through an inspiring story. Also, we constantly create a connection with our crew as we share past experiences, and bonding is what drives us to carry our share of the load.
Share your stories
Finally, we gain a greater appreciation of our trade as we share our stories, even those we share secondhand. After all, anyone who hears the story of the Hoover Dam or the Brooklyn Bridge never looks at our trade the same way again.
Sadly, not everyone cares about living out a worthwhile story. I won’t work with concrete contractors who cut corners or skip steps along the way. Maybe I feel this way because of my childhood where my dad nurtured within me a love for our trade by telling stories about concrete around our kitchen table. Maybe it’s because of a lifetime in concrete working under a few legendary leaders. Maybe it’s because of the mentors who trained me. I can’t say for sure, but I believe we should all take pride in our work and do our best or we shouldn’t do it at all.
You don’t want to be remembered poorly as being part of a “splash and dash” crew. Produce work you can always be proud of and do your work with integrity and honor. When the equipment wears out, the money’s all spent, and our knees and back are shot, sometimes all we have left are our stories. When that time comes and your stories are all you have left, make sure they are right.
Craig Cottongim is certified in conflict resolution and is a long-time concrete finisher who is also a writer and communicator. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.