It was April 2000, and I was almost finished a diploma in Architectural technology. I was interviewing for a junior position with a large well-known construction company in the GTA.
I was over the moon when the company offered me a full-time position before I had graduated. Why else did I go to college right? This was it! I had a job, and I would learn how manage home construction, I was on my way! Then I got my first paycheque. I was earning less working 60 hours a week then I had been working security at nightclubs part-time while I was in school. I justified the minuscule number by reminding myself that it was entry level, and I had to put in my time, and learn.
I was being mentored by a 60-something Site Supervisor, who was a stress monkey. We all know the type, the guy who smokes a pack a day, high blood pressure, yells a lot, and as I found out, had had 2 heart attacks and was on his way to a 3rd.
I also noticed that he was working the hours that I thought I was working because I was new to the industry. He was pulling onsite at 6:30 am when I was, and at times was still there when I left at 5:30 pm. He was also there Saturday mornings at 6:30, sucking back espresso and yelling at the sub-trades.
We got to talking one day about the career of Construction Management, and he happened to tell me what he was earning. At that moment, I knew I had to figure something out. This guy had given 40 years of his life to a career, 60 hours a week, for about $25,000 more a year than I was making at 25. I didn’t want to be that guy.
I also met a machine operator, who ran the backhoe on the site. He was a contractor, who worked the same hours, and was about the same age as the Site Supervisor. He, in contrast to the Site Supervisor, was always smiling. Every time I was walking the site, he would stop and yell some joke out the window of the Backhoe, or, make some gesture that I came to learn was the universal construction way of saying hello.
I happened to have lunch with him one day, and asked him why he was always happy, while mentioning that in contrast, the Site Supervisor was always angry (as was the Rough Supervisor, and the Finishing Supervisor, and all the other Supers that I had met).
He told me, that he was a Contractor. He had started working when he was 18. By 25 (my age at the time), he purchased a bull-dozer, and started leveling driveways. Then at 35, he bought a second machine, and employed someone else. Now, in his late 50’s owned 5 machines, plus the one he was driving, and was doing very well for himself. Sure, he worked long hours, but it was to build his own mini-empire.
I realized at that moment, that in my current position I was just floating. It would take me probably 20 years to get to a Site Supervisor position, where I would make just enough to keep me there, but never enough to truly be happy.
I started working as a contractor with a renovation company soon after that, and have been self-employed ever since. Sometimes I have to traverse the rapids, and sometimes I tread water for a bit, but I’m doing a heck of a lot more than just floating.