Don’t Be Afraid to Take a Chance
Donald E. McCauley, Jr.
Do you ever get so caught up with life that you feel like you just ended up where you are without realizing what you did to get there? One of the biggest things I have learned is not to be afraid to take a chance or to cut against the grain of what other people think is right for your life. It’s ok to take a different path, even if you have to sacrifice in the short term for long-term gain.
Back in the mid-80s, I was making top dollar as a bricklayer at $19 per hour. Out of the blue, I was offered an entry-level estimating position by the owner of the company where I worked. It was a great opportunity, but it came with a caveat. The starting salary was only $10 per hour with no benefits. This was a heavy decision, since I had just gotten married. This decision would change the trajectory of my life, one way or another.
After much reflection and praying, I decided to take a chance and go for it. I soon learned that if you have a solid work ethic, aren’t afraid to put in the time, keep an open mind, and are ready to learn something every day, you can rise to the top. One thing led to another and after about five years, I had become a senior estimator making three times what I did as a top-dollar mason. Five years after that, I became a senior project manager/senior estimator, making well into a six-digit income. Finally, seven years ago, my wife and I started our own masonry company. This all became possible because I learned a trade.
Instead of going the traditional route and doing what every teacher, every guidance counselor and even my parents were pushing me toward—attending college—I found my own path. I was told that college was the only way I would have a future, but all I saw was a waste of four years and tremendous debt that would be racked up for a career in whatever it may have been.
College isn’t a one-size-fits-all. I believe we need more diversity in our education system to allow for on-the-job training. This is offered through trade and vo-tech schools. The challenge is the overall attitude that school counselors, society, peers and parents have toward these schools. The perception is that attending one of these schools means you aren’t smart and are somehow a lower-class citizen because you get your hands dirty. This perception needs to change.
I am, by no means, advocating that a college education is worthless. It just isn’t meant for everyone. My wife and I have six children and we are raising them to understand who they are and to make choices about their futures based on their passions in life. I would be honored if one of my children decided to learn my trade and follow in my footsteps for a third generation, but I make it clear to them that they aren’t obligated. What really brings a person success is being driven and passionate about whatever he or she does in life. If a person can keep these character traits as a nucleus to fall upon, then tough choices can be made regarding the right path to take in life—trade school, college, spouse, family and career. I have seen so many people end up totally miserable because they did what others told them to do and weren’t true to themselves.
Even when a trade school is chosen, I would recommend supplementing that experience with educational classes that work hand-in-hand with your trade. No matter what you chose as your career path, always stay true to yourself. Stay humble and remember where you came from and learn something new every day.
My grandfather once told me when I was a young man that if I was on the train tracks of life, and I was out in front of everyone else and decided to slow down and enjoy where I was, I would get run over by someone who didn’t take his foot off the gas. So keep your foot on the gas and don’t be afraid to take a chance.