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Building Mindfulness In The Construction Industry

Tearing down walls to make space for compassion

During my last two decades working in the world of construction, I’ve witnessed the field evolve tremendously in terms of trends and technology. The building industry has always been fueled by innovation, art, and craftsmanship, but it hasn’t necessarily been known for it’s social modernity. When I started out as a young female construction business owner, I felt like an unwanted outsider in an old school man’s world.

I’d set foot on a residential job site, and the construction crews would assume I was the homeowner’s wife or the children’s babysitter. I’d arrive armed with concrete solutions for job obstacles, only to be silenced or dismissed by the superintendent on duty. Several times I was told not to show up without my crew because I “wouldn’t understand the details myself.” Yet I had authored those details and even drawn the designs for them. Once I was told by the GC that my presence at a trade meeting was a “distraction” to the other subcontractors. I hadn’t even opened my mouth. I’d simply listened. I felt unwelcome, unheard, and irrelevant.

I learned quickly to speak scarcely, prove my knowledge early in the conversation, and not share more than necessary. As a co-founder of my tile business, I studied diligently and read up on the newest building practices to prove myself worthy. Yet I lacked the hands on experience to be deemed credible by the skilled veterans of construction. I knew my fresh ideas could feel like an invasive threat to their years of experience and artistry. I tread gently when sharing my suggestions. I let others speak and made sure they felt heard. I noticed that poor communication was the cause for most installation problems, not poor craftsmanship. I spoke rarely, and listened ardently.

After a few years in the industry, I began to speak up more. Eventually I was invited to sit on expert panels. I even educated members of the sales force on best installation practices. I got involved in the NTCA (National Tile Contractors Association,) which turned out to be a prized resource for my little niche of construction, the tile industry. I slowly found my voice. For the first time, I felt unexpectedly welcome by some of the most knowledgeable people in my industry. I met other women, many of whom were leading voices in the tile field, as well as incredibly talented artisans. I learned many things from them, the most powerful of which was courage.

Courage allowed me to do my own thing, even in an industry that hadn’t always felt like my own. As a certified yoga teacher and a mindfulness and creativity coach, I brought compassion and gratitude into all my work. I taught mindfulness to the staff of Best Buddies, in the local school system, and throughout my community. I taught my construction clients how to set intentions for their new spaces, and shared gratitude practices with them and my office staff. I began writing a blog called Intentional Spaces. Although I’d brought mindfulness practice into my business, I didn’t know how to segue that into the construction world. Then the pandemic hit.

COVID-19 rocked every industry, and brought a need for empathy and human connection across the globe. Sharing the practice of mindfulness and compassionate awareness became the most important skill I felt I could offer. I geared my construction blog exclusively to mindfulness tools for navigating the moment. When I was asked by a tile industry colleague to share my contractor’s perspective of the pandemic in a national tile publication, I considered writing about the stuff I was supposed to; the logistics of working with PPE, our new remote office setup, and social distancing on job sites. But that wasn’t my story. My story was about fear and compassion and strength and resilience and the need for mindfulness tools. It was about how important it was to listen to others and share our inner thoughts. So I submitted a very emotional article about precisely that. No construction talk, just mindfulness concepts. I knew it would be rejected, perhaps even laughed at, and then tossed away. And I was okay with that.

Yet again my industry humbled me. The editor of the tile publication, who happened to be one of those very women who’d inspired and welcomed me years ago, responded immediately. She’d published my article in the Tile Letter that day, and shared her gratitude for my candor in speaking about empathy, and bringing mindfulness into the conversation of our industry. She even told me a board member of the NTCA had thanked her for publishing the article and expressed the importance of sharing mindfulness with their national group of readers. I was truly shocked. Once again, I was silenced, but this time I felt completely heard.

Recently, during a Mindfulness Workshop I taught, I noticed several of those in attendance were construction industry colleagues. This was a milestone for me. What I’d once considered an old school man’s world has turned out to be a truly open, compassionate, and supportive space, even for a woman who wears yoga pants instead of a tool belt. I never imagined this industry would provide me a platform from which to grow, and teach mindfulness. I’m proud to be a woman in the construction industry, and I’m grateful for the doors it’s opened. It’s possible to shatter glass ceilings and raze brick walls, with no jack hammer required.

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