So when I’m asked “Do you miss it?”, I’ve got a pretty standard answer on tap, which I’ve had the last 5 or so years to polish. A conversation ensues, and depending on the person asking, we chat some more, or we don’t, and we go our separate ways.
What is ‘it’ you ask?
‘It’ is, or was, the construction contractor’s life. ‘It’ is delivering large civil infrastructure projects working for the big Australian Tier 1 companies. ‘It’ is what I used to do.
It wasn’t until recently that after giving my answer, I sat down, tilted my head waaaaaay back and looked directly upwards, as I do sometimes when I’m thinking, and asked myself why it was that people even wanted to know.
Think about it, no one ever asks if you miss being sick, or miss being broke, or miss anything that generally sucks.
So with that in mind, is it generally considered that the construction contractor’s life is more exciting, more rewarding, more everything, and that people wonder why I’d leave that life for (supposedly) duller client-side project management work?
If you’d asked me 6 years ago if I’d ever consider moving client-side, it would have been a resounding “Nope”.
But seeing as I’m now into my fifth year as a client side practitioner, I thought it’s probably time to have a proper think about what is actually a tough question to answer.
So here’s my Top 5 things I don’t miss about working contractor-side:
The 11-13 hour days…every day
Seemingly endless night shifts re-sheeting roads and rolling out traffic switches (usually in the rain)
End of month (dockets, invoices, accruals, forecasts, budgets….)
The cold. Early starts for big pours, middle of the night SuperT lifts, even a few years drilling under Bass Strait where it was so f**ing cold that full thermals were issued as standard PPE
And because everyone loves a list (including me), here’s my Top 5 things I do miss about working contractor-side:
The occasional shouting match at 3:00 AM when landing Super-T’s over a live rail line (you know who you are Mr Henry)
The swearing. Now I’m not really a regular swearer, and never have been, but there’s something quite satisfying about working in an environment where unleashing a few nuclear F-bombs every now and again raised n’er even an eyebrow
The depth of camaraderie of being in the trenches with your team (sometimes literally)
The relationships with the work crews, and being able to direct, in real time, outcomes on the ground
The level of satisfaction in seeing something you planned, sweated over, occasionally bled over, regularly stressed over, played out in your mind 1,000 times before the first agi arrived, come to life as an actual thing you can touch
Now for my current colleagues whose mouths may have dropped open and are thinking I don’t get any satisfaction from my current role because I don’t get to shout, swear, work in a trench, or directly impact outcomes on the ground, you couldn’t be further from the truth.
It’s like that ex-girlfriend you had in Uni, who was a little wild, but deep down you knew it was never going to last.
So if I miss the action, what is it that I’ve gained instead?
Visibility into a breadth of interfaces I never even knew existed. I deal now with an exponentially larger number of people in different positions, agencies, and authorities than ever before – where my work life before was particularly insular, now it spans not just Projects, but Programs, Government planning and look ahead dates that extend past 2030. It does something to your immediate perspective when you’re aware that things exist past the end of your Project
The opportunity for strategic thinking. I’m not sure if it’s just that as I’ve moved up the tree that strategic thinking has become a larger part of my role, or if it’s being client-side forces that task upon you. Without the benefit of time travel, perhaps I may never know. What I do know is that in my current role there are means and opportunity to use a part of my brain that I hadn’t for some years. In the contractor space, thinking, one, two, maybe three steps ahead was as much as I had the time to devote to, while neck deep in building the job. Now there’s more latitude to take a step back and see the bigger picture
Time. Time on the weekends with my kids. Time to find (or make) my own action outside of work; with the RFS, with my business, at the gym, wherever my mind takes me.
This new gold mine of time I’ve stumbled across is partly because of my client-side role, and partly because I now actively make time. I now get up so early it sometimes seems like it’s still the day before, and not working contractor side any more certainly helps me to be able to do that
A renewed desire to learn. Again, I’m not sure if it’s me getting older, (hopefully) wiser, being more protective of my time, or being Client side, however I’ve read more books in the last 3 years than the last 10 combined. I’ve read books on strategy, books written by Japanese Samurai, a Roman Emperor, a US Army General, and even the coach of the San Francisco 49’ers. Some have been better than others. Some offer guidance. Some offer nothing. All of them though in some way, shape or form, have ultimately been worth the time invested
So just to recap, I’ve gained a broader horizon, increased brain utilisation, developed a renewed passion for learning and a seemingly limitless bounty of time….
Seems like a good deal to me.
Is client-side for everyone? Absolutely not. But it takes all sorts to make this world go round, and if we were all determined to work client-side, who’d build the projects? If we were all determined to work contractor-side, who’d decide they needed building in the first place?
Can’t have one without the other. Simple as that. It’s not a zero-sum game – both can, and must, succeed for these projects to succeed.
No one likes a fence-sitter.
So when I’m asked “Do you miss it?”, I’ve got a pretty standard answer on tap, which I’ve had the last 5 or so years to polish.
“Sometimes I do miss the action, although I don’t ever miss the Saturday shifts. In saying that, if I’d never have experienced all of that madness and chaos, and learned what I did, I wouldn’t be who I am, or where I am today.”