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L aying T rack LESSONS FROM THE RAILROAD
Every summer while I was an undergrad, I’d come home and work on the railroad. After two semesters learning to be an accountant, it was almost a nice change of pace to be swinging a 9-pound hammer in the Alabama heat. During my first summer back, I was just happy to have a job to help pay my way through school. What I didn’t expect was to be thrust into a leadership position. It happened during my third month on the job. Our crew had been replacing the crossties on a stretch of track. One day, I went with our supervisor and another worker to take these 16-foot wooden beams back to the shop. Well, the supervisor didn’t realize we’d parked on a slight incline, and when he loosened the cords that lashed them to the flatbed, 400 pounds of hardwood came crashing down on him. I must have been running on pure adrenaline at that point. I couldn’t have weighed more than a buck 25 at the time, but somehow the other crew member and I were able to lift the board pile off of the poor man. Miraculously, he came away from the accident with nothing more serious than a broken ankle. As tough as that supervisor was, you can’t do that sort of work with your foot in a cast. Someone had to take his place.
college kid. Most of the guys in my crew were over 30, and I had to be the one to convince them to come off lunch and get back to work. So what did I do? The only thing I knew. I worked. I knew the only way these guys were going to respect me was if I showed them I could work just as hard as they were and that I was with them and not above them. Rather than pester them
get the job done under that kind of pressure, your work can’t be about you; it has to be about getting the job done. No amount of prior accomplishment would make that hammer any lighter, and no one’s going to be there to give you a pat on the back when the work is over. Most importantly, I learned success not only takes dedication and commitment, but it also takes relying on the team around you.
“No amount of prior accomplishment would make that hammer any lighter, and no one’s going to be there to give you a pat on the back when the work is over.”
to get off break, I’d grab a hammer, head back into the hot sun, and show them I was working — that my break time was over and theirs best be too. Thankfully, I had a good group of guys who were willing to play ball ... mostly. I had one old-timer who thought he’d take advantage of my inexperience. He got right up in my face one day when he didn’t particularly feel like getting back to work. When I couldn’t reason with him, I had to let him go. I never pictured myself firing people at that age, but he wasn’t willing to be a part of the team, and it wasn’t fair to the rest of the guys. Needless to say, I learned a lot swinging a hammer that summer and all the summers that followed. To really
That last point has translated directly over to my role today. Sure, helping people get square with the IRS may not be the same as swinging a hammer, but there are parallels. I take the same attitude I had as a supervisor on that railroad: Just because I’m your advisor doesn’t mean I’m above you. When you come to me for help, you bet I’m going to be right there with you through the whole process because we’re on the same team. As long as you’re willing to put in the work for your future, I’ll be laying track alongside you.
And the person the company picked was me — a scrawny, 18-year-old
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