Gratitude for Resilience


Resilience gets us through tough times, but where does it come from? Long before COVID hit, leaders recognized the need to bounce back, to be resilient. Leaders need the mental toughness to endure hardship and see the future through the lens of what is possible.

Early on in my construction career I knew I needed to forge ahead to become the best superintendent I could be to later be able to build a business. I realized setbacks, as threatening as they were, made the road ahead more daunting but not impassable.

Learning hard lessons in childhood helped me develop confidence.

Although it seems trivial in comparison to truly difficult situations others faced, I remember when I was 10, I wanted to go boating with my friend’s family but needed my own life-jacket. I mowed neighbor’s lawns “for a living” and saved enough to pay off a debt to my dad. When I asked him about waiting for repayment so I could buy the life-jacket, he refused. As I tearfully presented “his” $10 he said, “OK, now your debt is cleared up, your credit is good and I can loan you $20.”

A couple of years later I was in a rock band and needed a portable keyboard to play out. Although it was a big purchase at the time, he could easily have financed it. Instead he arranged terms with his bank and drove me to meet the loan officer and fill out the paperwork. For two years I made each monthly payment by mowing lawns and working at a car wash.
Resilience isn’t built on financial transactions alone.

As an adolescent my father brought me to work on various jobsites. I started in as he gave instructions to the crew and walked off. I remember the nagging feeling of insecurity because he never said goodbye. I’d look up and notice his car gone. I steeled myself, as the only kid on a remote construction site, and pretended to be confident. Much later I learned he never told the guys of his comings and goings for fear they might slack off in his absence.

In high school I worked most summers and vacations for the business. One hot summer day our lead labor foreman and I were alone doing site-work at an elementary school we were building. I remember staring at what looked like a mountain of crushed stone we needed to spread for a leaching field 100 feet away and asking, “Danny, how are we supposed to do all this without a loader?”

“One wheelbarrow at a time.” The summer sun reflected off that 30 cy pile all day and the stone seemed to laugh at my shovel. It took the day, but it got done.
Over the years when faced with insurmountable odds I remember to go at it “one wheelbarrow at a time.”

I remember too how Danny (Donato Tempesta) cautioned me to pace myself when at 7 AM I attacked the first job of digging a trench by hand with all the might I could muster. “John, don’t kill yourself. We gotta last the whole day.”

I’m thankful Danny taught me construction from the laborer’s view—in the heat of summer or the cold of winter, he planned the next days’ work, took care of the tools and equipment. He never read any books on business, but always “Began with the end in mind.”

I wish my dad had been an easier guy to know. Looking back, I see the benefit of working off debt and learning to manage both money and physical labor. The tough lessons showed me I could accomplish more than I thought. Those experiences built capacity, instilled confidence—and for that, I’m very grateful.
And the keyboard I got? Well I buy a new one every decade or so, the most recent—I call it my KOVID Keyboard– challenges me to learn new programs and comforts me with its beautiful sounds. Plus playing music just gets me out of my own head.

So thanks Dad, for helping me become a more resilient guy and hopefully, a slightly better leader.



Responses

  1. This is lovely John. Happy I poked my head in. It’s been a long road but your future’s ahead of you and it’s really bright!
    God bless you both,
    Jamie

  2. This reminded me of lessons my father taught me! I am grateful i had the opportunity to be part of my family business and i am thankful for being in yours!

  3. Hey John,
    Reading your story about your early years with your Dad and work is literally how I grew up. My Dad was a general contractor. He mostly did water/sewer connections and hot top driveways. With 3 sisters and no brothers I was his main laborer (non-negotiable) starting at 12 during the summers. Their were no easy jobs and I found myself either hand digging 6′ down in a ditch trying to find a water main pipe or wheel barreling hot top all day as my Dad pushed to get both coats done before it got dark. One thing, though, he said that has always stuck with me to this day, and I quote, “you can have anything you want as long as your willing to work for it”. And “never expect anyone to give you anything”. I’m sure we could spend hrs recalling old stories of our early years with our fathers, work, and how they shaped our current lives. P.S. I also started cutting lawns for extra $$ 39 years ago.

    All the best, Nathan

  4. John,

    Thank you for sharing your reflections and wisdom. It is a beautiful reminder of how important and challenging parenting can be.

  5. That’s why you are so very successful today . Not only the years of hard work, but that your vivid memories of your past fellow workers & family lessons were never forgotten !

    My father , Domenic, who was my lifelong best friend & mentor, was a small contractor, and I did everything be hand with him, with no equipment , but pick & shovel and the wheelborrows.

    Thanks for sharing your inspiring story, which brought back many fond memories of my own past and a good outcome for me years later Fran.

  6. John

    Thanks for this great family story that I hope more people will read and learn from. Life is a never ending series of challenges that need to be met by each and all of us to move forward as a society. Better to receive “tough love” than none at all.

  7. You got us all to think of our fathers and our past.

    I remember how I had to work from 9pm to 6am 6 days a week as a waiter while completing my Civil Engineering degree, with classes from 8am to 5pm. I had to pay off the money my dad lent me. Do i regret it? not at all. As you said, it builds resilience.

    Thanks for sharing!

  8. All the tools I have (questionable) to use running an 8 man architecture shop I learned racing bicycles on sponsored teams. All members have specific tools of their own, assign accordingly. In a big event, protect the stragglers, help the big dogs be patient, pick the right battle points. After the race, share the TEAM spoils. Groom your grit.

  9. Hi John, Good story about growing up in the business and the lessons you learned along the way. Did you apply the same principles to your children?
    Hope all are well! Thanks for sharing.
    John

  10. John, great story and history. Growing up in a family business like you, the expectation was to do the most and say the least. It was a hard lesson at the time but proved to be valuable later on in understanding operations, strategy and employee development.
    Here’s to continued success to Tocci Building Corp. Stay well.

  11. What a lovely story, John!

    As a rule, I don’t usually miss being raised fatherless, until I hear stories like this.

    You’ve clearly taken the wonderful seeds of wisdom your dad planted in your life and multiplied them to bear wonderful fruit personally, professionally and spiritually.

    And I know your children will be paying this fruit forward.

    Stay safe and well!

    And blessings to you and your lovely family.

    Richard

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