Growing up, my dad would often say, “Experience is a great teacher...if it doesn’t kill you.” When we worked together in the late 1980s and early ‘90s, not a week went by without him repeating this mantra. It was his way of saying, ‘Pay attention, always try to learn something, and be careful.’
Our trade can be dangerous and it has a lot to teach us. Think of the poor guys who’ve lost fingers setting up ready-mixed chutes or who’ve lost hands in conveyors or in pumps. Or those who, tragically, lost their lives on the job.
Concrete has taught me many personal lessons, and I’m sure I’m not alone. It’s taught me to monitor the economy just like the weather – many years are feast or famine in our trade. It’s taught me that having a rock-solid work ethic is the best way to build a good reputation, which is priceless.
Concrete has taught me to ignore the color of someone’s skin, their educational credentials or lack thereof, and their physique. Some of the smartest people I’ve worked with didn’t graduate from high school, some of the hardest-working people are multiethnic, and some of the toughest people I know don’t weigh 130 pounds soaking wet.
Concrete has taught me time and time again about the value of mentoring. When I started finishing, I grew only because of the seasoned finishers who invested their time in me. As I led people later on, I felt fulfilled only when I was pouring my heart and soul into those who followed. Now that we’re in our third year of owning and operating a concrete pump, I’m perpetually aware of my reliance on Charlie McIntosh, a contractor who also sells and services Reed equipment throughout the Southeast. He’s the pumping guru in our region.
Working in concrete is all about timing. We can’t just stop in our tracks whenever we’re tired, hurting, or frustrated. Furthermore, I’ve learned that getting anxious and panicking only makes matters worse. Learning to stay calm and be patient are the two absolutely essential traits everyone should develop.
Concrete has taught me that, no matter how much pressure we’re under, we are problem solvers with great imaginations. Every day is a new challenge, and we adapt and overcome by thinking through these problems and using our imaginations to envision the best possible way to accomplish what the ordinary citizen could never do.
For me, concrete reinforces the maxim “mind over matter.” Whenever I feel I’ve stretched the limits of my endurance (like working 18-hour days) and reached my breaking point, I’ve somehow been able to do what it takes to get the job done. Stamina, endurance, a high tolerance for pain, confidence, and grit – these are the gifts concrete offers.
Concrete teaches us that, above all, with the right mindset, even though our muscles are cramping up and our joints and tendons are strained and sore, we will never give up. Concrete teaches us we have what it takes.