If I Were A Boy (20 Years in the Making)
20 years ago I made my sheepish entry into a male dominated industry (that still is today) which I knew absolutely nothing about. As a matter of fact, I knew nothing at all at that time. I was still a snot nosed kid that confused my rear end with a hole in the ground. I was inexperienced, eager and pissing vinegar. I wanted to be the best at whatever I did. I didn’t know what I was going to do in this business or how I would do it, but I had the naïve confidence that only an inexperienced kid could have – and it served me.
Even as a young girl, I always wanted to be with the boys. I was the only girl to play the upright bass in orchestra and I did so with high esteem. At the time all of my girlfriends were playing instruments like the violin or the clarinet, regarded as more “female friendly” musical devices. I took no issue with standing up (and standing out) as I played and lugging around a 30 pound instrument to concerts and competitions. I was a catcher when I played softball but watched major league baseball with fervor, fantasizing about being the first female to play in the major leagues and talking smack in my hometown little league like I was already doing so. I ran the games like a boss behind the plate, constantly assessing the risk or opportunities of incoming batters and coaching my pitcher and team through every play. I dreamed of becoming the nation’s first woman president because, well… why not! If I could play like a boy and throw like a boy then why couldn’t I run the country as well as a boy? I never saw myself as lesser because I was a girl (thx Mom and Dad).
And then I went into construction in the nineties. A time where women had plenty of equal rights but they were certainly not treated that way in this particular industry. And immediately, and for the first time, I felt lesser than my male counterparts. I felt as though my lack of experience was like a blaring fluorescent Las Vegas sign shining in the night. The confidence I once had was stripped away instantly after being looked down on and ridiculed for my gender and my age. I never thought I would survive and for the first time, I started to think that this was a place I would be lesser. But I never showed my hand and I never let any of the sneering workers or condescending old men have the satisfaction of knowing they made me feel that way. I put my head down and forged ahead.
There were many times I did not think this was for me, that it was something I could not do, and considered quitting. I had to learn a lot by trial and error and by making costly mistakes (to teach me to never make them again). I literally and figuratively had to pull myself up by my boot straps on many occasions after being knocked down, spat on and laughed at. But I learned! And through those experiences and the knowledge it provided me, I was able to gain my peers respect. And eventually, I was able to gain their trust too. And after about a decade of keeping my head down, my nose to the grind stone and tromping through the murky (and often chauvinistic) waters, where these guys were once rolling their eyes and cracking jokes at my expense, they were asking me to attend important project meetings and wanting my opinion on how to execute their paver dreams. Eureka! We have progress.
It seems like yesterday when I was hunched over, side by side with some of the guys that still work with me today, laying pavers at Saint Joseph Hospital in Elgin. Getting my fingers pinched between slung pavers and complaining of a back ache when it was only 10 a.m. that day. 20 years have since gone by and while I find myself behind a computer screen much more often than I find myself behind a truck anymore, I relish those days. They were the beginning of something that I could have never dreamed at the time would turn into something so spectacular.
I have and likely always will be a girl in a man’s world when it comes to my profession and after 20 years of realization and acceptance I can honestly say that I am happy to be. It has made me who I am and allowed me to thrive and be challenged the entire way through. I started in this business as the little nobody Olivia Schmidt and have evolved into The Brick Chick with her Paver Posse. I couldn’t have asked for a better result on my 20th year anniversary. Even if I were a boy.