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The Inner Life of a Contractor, Part 1: Are you just molecules or more?

"The extent to which you thrive or wither as a contractor ultimately comes down to who you are inside. Nobody talks much about this, but some of us think about it, at least from time to time."


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August 24, 2018 by Steve Maxwell

Editor’s Note: This is the first part of a new, 10-part series by Steve Maxwell on the psychological aspects of working as a contractor. The chief adversaries in any construction project are not the site conditions, the limitations of the building materials, or the money available, but the normal feelings of doubt and even fear that can strike any of us when we lose track of what needs to be done today, alone. Steve decided to tackle these psychological aspects of contracting and building in this series of articles because this type of project management and business management thinking isn’t widely available to contractors elsewhere. We hope you find it useful. Please do comment down below the article, and let us know what you think…

Life as a contractor offers more freedom and profit potential than most jobs, but being a contractor also involves more challenges. You need to deal with more moving parts than an employee in a pre-made work situation, and you face more uncertainty and potential pitfalls, too. The extent to which you thrive or wither as a contractor ultimately comes down to who you are inside. Nobody talks much about this, but some of us think about it, at least from time to time. This is the first of a ten-part series called The Inner Life of a Good Contractor. I’ll share ideas and thoughts that have helped me over the years, and I’ll begin with the most important of all questions.

Is the universe and everything in it (including you) the product of an unguided series of happenstance events, or is there some eternal significance to you, your life, your loved ones and how you live? Are you just molecules or more? Your answer determines everything about your life, including whether or not you’ll smile or frown as you read this article.

Although I didn’t start this way, science eventually convinced me that blind chance could never have led to the complexity of life and the fine-tuning of the universe that we see around us. I simply no longer have enough faith in Lady Luck to believe it all just happened to happen. Starting from the microscopic level, even the simplest single-cell organisms have astonishingly complex digital information encoded into their DNA, information that’s necessary to guide all processes for life. There’s no such thing as any living creature that’s simple, and it’s not just mechanical complexity I’m talking about. Information has to precede life processes just like software is necessary for a computer to run. Complex information is what you find encoded in the DNA of, say, a single-celled amoeba, not to mention you and me. If life needs complex information before it can exist, how could life processes begin from nothing more than the random presence of simple, non-living atoms and molecules? When was the last time you saw complex information arrange itself out of nothing? This is why I’ve become convinced that the universe is more than just molecules.

On a larger scale, there are many forces in the universe that must be present in just the right measure for time, space and matter to exist. The strength of gravity, for instance, the strength of electromagnetic forces, the strong nuclear force, the weak nuclear force, and others. Physicists tell me all these must exist exactly as they do now for the universe to exist at all. Change just the force of gravity, even the tiniest bit stronger or weaker, for instance, and planets and stars never would have formed. And gravity is just one force of many. The odds of all the forces of the universe lining up as they do by chance has been calculated to be more unlikely than the chance of picking one specific grain of beach sand out of all the grains of sand on earth with one random draw. How likely is that?

Why does all this matter? Besides the fact that observable reality bears the fingerprints of more than just chance, a meaningless universe offers nothing upon which to cultivate the morals that make for a strong inner contractor. Let me warn you about something, though. Left to its own devices, the human heart wants the universe to be meaningless because this removes personal responsibility and replaces it with something much easier to live with – personal preference. Do you feel anger at my suggestion that you and I and the universe are more than just happenstance arrangements of molecules? Some people do, and that’s your heart fighting for the easy way out. The thing is, what we want is no guarantee of what really is. Aligning yourself with reality is the first and necessary step to thriving as a contractor and a human being.

Join me next time as I talk about what may be the most important bedrock value of all for any contractor – pride in craftsmanship and skills.’


Steve Maxwell

Steve Maxwell is the tools editor for Canadian Contractor magazine. You can follow him on his website (www.stevemaxwell.ca), on Facebook or via Twitter.
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2 Comments » for The Inner Life of a Contractor, Part 1: Are you just molecules or more?
  1. Tremendous courage Steve to put this out there… we do need to find our moral fibers and the personal work we each need to do to get connected to our “inner contractor” is paramount. This is no accident of existence… Leadership starts with self and a recognition that we are the source and from that we create meaning. Just like building a house… or renovating one that already exists… we need to get in side, assess the situation, understand our purpose, align that with our skills and put it into action! I love what you are up to here… conscious leadership in contracting renovation/construction is essential. We are in this together… keep it coming…