On Record – June 2007

A few years back, the Associated Press told the story of then 26-year-old Jason Connell. Jason, a former special education student, had been trying to pass his high school exit exam for seven years. On his 22nd try, he did it.

I don’t know if I’ve tried – and failed – to do something five times in a row, much less 22. And Jason admitted he was close to quitting. “I lost count of how many times I came back to take it,” he told the reporter.

Jason’s story resonates with me because I see the same determination in the contractors I interview. Sometimes this determination is disguised by clichés: “I just take one day at a time,” they tell me, or “You’ve got to keep on going.” But it remains the bedrock on which many of them form their everyday decisions.

They’ve found this stick-to-itiveness becomes absolutely essential when jobs fall through, the Weather Channel threatens a return to the days of Noah or their key machine needs a new tranny.

But Jason had some help. His co-workers at Decatur General Hospital in Decatur, Alabama, pushed him to take and retake and retake the test. “We’d tell him to give it one more shot,” said an administrative assistant at the hospital. The hospital also allowed him to rearrange his schedule so he could attend tutoring classes.

I’ve yet to meet a lone ranger when I visit contractors. They’ll face me with weathered hands and faces and start tearing up when they talk about how much their spouse has sacrificed for their companies. Sometimes those mates are working right alongside them, other times they take on the paperwork after putting in a full eight-hour day elsewhere.

This is also the case with key employees, the ones who give up pension plans at other companies to make these contractors’ dreams a reality. They put in long hours because their bosses put in long hours. They’re completely wired in to what’s important. They fill in a contractor’s weak spots and tell them no when they need to be told no.

The article pictured Jason with a small smile, holding his 18-by-12-inch diploma, which he’d placed in an old red leather cover. It’s evidence he tried 22 times.

I believe, however, he would have gone in to take that test a 23rd time and a 24th time and then some because he wasn’t alone in his determination. And, thank God, neither are you.