One thing led to another, and after a year of snowboarding world-class resorts, joining Theta Chi Fraternity, and embarrassing myself on numerous occasions, I dropped out of college on the Dean's List, ready for the next adventure. After giving Colorado State the 'ole college try, I decided to leave the Construction Management program in search of hands-on experience. My final night in Fort Collins wrapped up with a packed truck bed, red bull, and the spontaneous decision to begin the drive to Wisconsin at 9pm, rather than 7am the next morning. That is how quickly my journey took on a life of its own.
I grew up in southwest Washington, spent one year in Colorado, then moved to Wisconsin to live with my sister who worked at American Family Insurance's Headquarters. With no degree, experience, or connections, I landed a job as a framer with a production home builder in Madison, which turned into one of the best opportunities I could have asked for. Of course, all this is hindsight. I wouldn't dare say I knew the value in this period of my life while I was enduring it.
Madison, WI is gorgeous. Large lakes, amazing fall colors, a beautiful downtown, & the University of Wisconsin campus made it unlike any city I had visited, let alone lived in. However, this beauty certainly came with the challenges of climate. Framing houses in hot, humid summers full of mosquitos, followed by brutally cold winters set me up for success in every stage since.
I left a degree in construction management because I wanted to learn 'how' to build houses, not just how to manage the project. This decision was in no part due to college being too challenging, so when I showed up on the jobsite, I was not the typical labor. Keep in mind, everything about construction was new to me, none of my relatives owned construction businesses, & I wasn't exposed to construction prior to stepping foot on site in Wisconsin. When the foreman told me something, I listened. He would show me once, then I understood what he needed. I was there to learn, not just make enough money for rent and another pack of cigarettes as was the norm amongst coworkers.
Rather quickly I rose from the new guy to the crew lead & was able to provide a lot of value to this company. This company taught me how to build a house, but it truly taught me work ethic. We were expected to show up 6 days a week, regardless of weather, with one exception. When the rain rolled in, we sheltered to see if it would pass, then would have to call it a day as it shorted our power tools in the open houses we were framing. Besides that, we worked. I would drive to work at 5am, on unplowed roads through a foot of snow while it was -25 degrees, expected to perform.
After a year of living and working in Wisconsin, I decided it was time to make the long move back to Washington. Along with my newfound love of building homes, working alongside blue collar individuals, & learning tangible skills, this period in my life taught me:
It doesn't matter how great you are if you aren't dependable. Always show up. Your boss, coworkers, & the owner will all know that they can count on you.
There is nothing wrong with not knowing how to do something. Ask questions and sincerely listen with the intent to learn, not just to complete the task.
When conditions are miserable, it doesn't help at all to complain. You can't change the weather, so just focus on completing what is required.
You don't need to be everyone's friend. If you are going to lead, you won't be everyone's friend. Give clear directions then hold the standard, not their hand.
I'm sure there will be more to share from Wisconsin, but for now, I will bookmark that chapter with these lessons learned building houses.