Never Too Old to Practice

Working at our craft may change technically over the years, but we should never stop practicing what we are trying to perform.

Pablo Casals sounds like the name of a Spanish wine label, something that is rich in sound and taste. But it’s not! Far from it.

Pablo Casals was once considered one of the best cellists in the world…of the first half of the 20th century. He was sort like our modern day Eddie Van Halen or Keith Urban with a guitar. OK, maybe Mr. Casals was not quite Halen or Urban but you get the point.

Here’s what’s interesting about Pablo Casals that we can learn from today. Still playing his cello in the middle of his tenth decade of life, he was once asked by a reporter, “Mr. Casals, you are 95 years old and the greatest cellist that ever lived. Why do you still practice six hours a day?” Mr. Casals response was relentless…

“Because I think I’m making progress.”

Don’t you love that response? In other words, “I’m still practicing because I am still working to be better, to correct those mistakes and to become more craftsman perfect.” Wow, what a great thought for any contractor who is entering, or in, the seasoned years of their career.

We’re never too old to practice our trade, to sharpen our skills. Practice may not always make us perfect, but it continues to assist us in “making progress.” But how do we practice as we season as a contractor? First, why should we “practice” as we mature as a contractor? Consider a few reasons, maybe benefits to the “Why?” question.

  • Practice keeps us sharp for each day.
  • Practice keeps us close to what our workers are also experiencing.
  • Practice keeps us loving our work, specialty, and industry.
  • Practice motivates others to imitate.
  • Practice demonstrates that we care about our craftsmanship.
  • Practice keeps us humble, realizing that we don’t know everything after all.
  • Practice will extend our careers into later years.

Best practice tips for continuing to "practice"

Now, there are a number of benefits to practicing. Likewise, there are a number of things we can do to practice. Consider a few practice tips to build into your career.

1. Review the basics

Hey, go back and re-familiarize yourself with your trade’s equipment, tools, materials, and best work processes.

2. Read industry focused articles throughout the month

Stay current on new trends in your industry. Many of the magazines, paper copy or on-line, are full of articles addressing a new technique, use of equipment, or some cost saving procedure.

3. Sit in and observe your worker’s meetings

Too often the seasoned contractor may enjoy sleeping in another hour in the morning and arrive to their office just as the guys are leaving for work. They say hi and wave to the exiting crews but they missed the early morning foremen’s meeting that discussed some of the pressing issues for the field.

4. Make regular site visits

Contractors who are handing over the daily reins of running things can still stay fresh by going to their job sites and observing their crews at work. This not only is a great educational experience it places a contractor in a natural position to interact with their leaders and laborers, asking questions along the way.

5. Schedule yourself for conference attendance

Contractors can often back away from attending some of the same conferences that used to mean so much more in past years. Attendance at your trade’s annual conferences keeps you in the mix with others who are up and coming…and enthusiastic for your industry. Such emotions and energy is contagious even for the seasoned contractor.

6. Conduct regular “update” meetings with staff

Even if the contractor is making site visits regularly, they can’t be at every job site or talk to every field leader. Hold monthly update meetings with your staff and just let them vent on both positive and challenging issues. Stay in the loop and you’ll stay in the know about what’s going on, thus allowing yourself to play consultant to their situation.

7. Request staff to submit weekly “Hi-Lo” report

The Hi-Lo Report is something that I’ve asked my staff to submit. Here’s how it works. Each Friday afternoon or Saturday morning my staff will forward to me a simple report that provides me with 3-5 “high-lights” and 3-5 “low-lights.” First, a few things that happened during the week that was positive, productive, and even profitable for the company. Then, a few negative situations that produced challenges that is or will be addressed.

Working at our craft may change technically over the years but we should never stop practicing what we are trying to perform. True, once you learn to ride a bike you never forget but having learned to ride a ten-speed bike years ago and riding a new, super light, with 20 plus gears, is a totally new experience.

We might never reach perfection in our time but there is nothing that stops us from trying. Whether you use a Pablo Casals, an Eddie Van Halen, or a Keith Urban as your inspiration, remember,

You’re never too old to practice!

Here’s to being the preeminent contractor!

*This article was originally published in 2015 and republished in 2020.