We all start somewhere. I started in construction with an ominous warning, a broom, and a trashcan.
I was quite certain that I should have started in a place more becoming of my status. But, clearly, my employer was not altogether troubled with my opinion of the pecking order. I strolled into this new job lugging around some substantial baggage. The most burdensome luggage, I discovered, was my entitlement.
I’d drag my trashcan around the jobsite, sweeping up mounds of sawdust and my entitlement would whisper to me every step of the way, “This is below you…” At times the whispers would rise to piercing screams of, “You deserve more than this!” The cries were deafening during my first summer, as I relieved an entire house of its stucco shell. I’d choke on that smothering, bitter stucco dust as I baked to a crisp in the 100-degree heat. There were two vital, I believe universal, truths which occurred to me while I fought that stucco every blistering day that summer.
The first truth was that nothing is below me. At no time had this been more true than when I didn’t have a job. The second truth: nothing, absolutely nothing is owed to me. These truths were unavoidable and flew directly in the face of the entitled, victim mentality that I had perceived my sorry lot in life with for so long. I began to comprehend my place in this company: at the bottom rung of the ladder. To be a laborer, at least in this context, is to perpetually occupy the bottom rung on the ladder, until you’ve earned the opportunity to move up.
Once I accepted my role in the company, which was essentially to give everyone else the best possible opportunity to succeed, my perspective underwent a drastic transformation. I resented my circumstances less. I had an opportunity to play a part in our production. I began to see myself playing an integral role rather than as a victim to unfair circumstances that were certainly below me. I took ownership of my role. I took ownership of the duties assigned to me.
As my perspective shifted from entitlement to ownership, I began to clean our jobsite (most of the time) with a new vigor and purpose. I’d hurry from work station to work station, scrambling to find something to throw away. I hounded everybody on our crew to see what work they had for me. I believed I was making a difference, and as I’d leave the job each afternoon, I experienced a self-worth and satisfaction that was altogether new to me.
Most things in my life were handed to me. Most things came easy to me—until one day they didn’t. I took everything for granted until I had nothing, and then I was desperate. Construction showed me that the world doesn’t owe me anything and that nothing, absolutely nothing, is below me. It taught me, by handing me a broom and trashcan, to earn my place in this world and among my peers. Construction taught me that I need not be a victim to the circumstances of life, but rather that I am responsible for building something better. I learned that the bottom is a perfect place to begin building something better.
“There is nothing noble in being superior to your fellow man; true nobility is being superior to your former self.”
– Ernest Hemingway
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