I’m reflecting on a job I recently finished, and came to some awareness that seems elemental to all hard-working people—no matter what the trade or the work. The client was in a different trade, but one with a lot of similarities to wood flooring. In the beginning of the job, I was asked if I worked on the weekends, and I said, “No, I do not.” The client’s schedule was such that the weekend was their best time, and after being pushed, I said I need weekends for family, church, fixing tools, etc. The ball was in the client’s court, as they say, and we subsequently agreed on a day of the week when the client would take the day off. We worked a long day, and the work was completed at 10:30 that night (workdays are fair game, but not the weekends). I got a $100 tip for my effort.
The client’s mindset was one many of us can relate to: work as much as we can with a frantic passion for raking in as much money as possible, even if that means seven days a week with no days off. In my geographic area (the Southwest) this is not only normal, but how construction works.
I used to live like that. I was out of control and a slave to the phone, calendar and clients who cared nothing about my personal life, health, or the status of my tool and/or vehicle maintenance. When I was new, I took down Christmas trees and/or New Year’s Eve decorations to begin a refinish or install, and changed my holiday schedule at the customer’s insistence, normally worked past midnight in vacant homes, and learned how to put out fires when my tools broke on the job because of lack of maintenance.
I put my foot down after I finished a job in Hollywood near the 405 and Wilshire that was 50 miles from home—as the crow flies. It took me four-and-a-half hours to drive there in traffic, and a little less to get home at night. We worked a long day, and I got home around 2 or 3 in the morning. I made a choice never to do that again—ever. Now I consider jobs 15 miles away as too far (when I was raising my son, I made the radius 10 miles so I could be available in case I needed to get him at school).
Even some closely connected friends thought I was nuts for letting jobs go and thought I was self-centered and had a lack of understanding about construction norms. One individual even criticized me for spending time with my family and made the accusation against me that I did not care enough about my family to do my due diligence in my responsibility as a provider! I came to the conclusion that being self-employed, I had the “keys” and the authority to shape my empire any which way I wanted right from the beginning—but never knew it. Now I do know it—and I use my “super power” as I see fit to control my life. I can say “no” pretty well, just ask me … 😁
Looking back, I know that watching my son play Little League, going day-tripping, going to the movies—all those little things are important. I would argue they are even part of our mental and physical health.
I am grateful to have the time to fix my tools or perform basic maintenance. Keeping the work vehicle running is not an accident, and neither is the cleanliness of my home. Due to what others viewed as my lack of basic construction work ethic, I had to let go of my goal of having not one, but at least two fancy Italian supercars like a Lamborghini or Ferrari. I also do not have a 37-room house with 18 bathrooms, or even a 16-car garage (oh the humanity!). I also do not have a villa in Europe or a slip on the Monaco waterfront for my yacht.
What I do have are many folders of pictures of my family on as many holidays as I could manage, good running vehicles, clean clothes, clean dishes and a clean house. Let’s not forget a good night’s sleep!
Sometimes there is a downside. Some jobs end, and there is not a following contract on the calendar—that’s the downside. But I submit that the downside can be just as enjoyable—and important—as the upside is. If you are reading this, you already have the distinction of being set apart higher in our trade by reading WFB magazine. In our quest for higher skills and advancement, we are always on the search for better ways to perform many aspects of our wood flooring lives, self-employed or not.
Taking the time to settle, regroup, relax and most of all, breathe, should be just as elemental in our thoughts as cutting a good miter, or laying down a perfect coat of finish.
We should take the time, enjoy the downside of having a day off on a regular basis, and not fret when we have no work for more than a few days end-to-end. The phone will always ring again, especially in the flooring trade, where competition is relatively low among the other trades. If we hone our craft, the work hunts us down and tackles us.
In a cyclical sense, there are busy bursts of contracts and then a slow time (if we are lucky). My rough carpentry friends who work for framing companies framing houses say they pray for rain just to have a day off. They work for builders who want the homes completed as soon as possible and work 365/24/7, it seems. They are hardly home, and I would not do well as a framer—by choice!
Going back to my recent client … the funny thing is that because the client had to take the day off while we were working, he was watching us work, watching TV, having a snack, reading the mail, playing the Xbox, and then picked up two of his kids from school and spent time talking to them at the table—all relaxing stuff he never would have done if he didn't take the day off. He told me he wakes up at 4 a.m. and drives anywhere the builder tells him to go. San Diego, San Francisco, Palm Springs … it's all the same, and he cares nothing for the travel time or gas he burns.
I did care, and I chose my family and my sanity after that job by the 405.