There’s an old running joke about Chicago weather:
“There are two seasons in Chicago, winter and construction.”
I thought about that as I drove up to see my family in Milwaukee. I went through four road construction zones during the trip that covered almost a half of the 80 mile drive.
Road Construction Parallels
Yes, it is super-annoying to go through that much construction. But it’s work that has to be done (usually).
It made me look at some similarities between road work and our professional and personal lives.
1. Maintenance is a part of the game.
Entropy and wear is a real thing. Potholes spring up and concrete loses its strength. So you have to maintain the roads if you want to keep using them.
In the same way, time takes a toll on us. Your professional skills erode without attention. Your relationships fade without contact. Your health suffers without proper diet and exercise. So make sure that you have time in your schedule every week to, as they say, sharpen the saw.
2. If you don’t invest a little now, you will invest more later.
We have an infrastructure crisis in the United States because our elected officials kept punting the cost of investments down the road. They figured they didn’t have to worry about maintenance because things weren’t falling apart. But now they are and it’s going to cost a lot more in time and money to fix our roads, bridges, and power grids.
If you don’t find time to maintain and develop your capabilities, you will become obsolete. If you don’t find time to nurture your network, they won’t be there when you lose your job. And there’s nothing like a heart attack to remind you about what happens when you ignore your health.
3. If you don’t innovate, you will see a diminishing return.
They’ve been making roads pretty much the same way and from the same materials my entire life. Lo and behold, they keep crumbling in the same way. Innovation in materials and construction techniques is out there, but adoption has been slow.
Likewise, maintaining your skills, relationships, and health will keep you in the game. Those are table stakes. But growth will come when you step back and reassess how you’re going about the process. When you can approach the same problems with new ideas you’ll be able to work on juicier opportunities down the line.
4. You can’t change everything at once.
I’d love to see our transportation grid revamped and modernized. But that doesn’t mean that we can change everything overnight. Can you imagine the chaos if they tried to upgrade and fix every road at once? But if we can drip updated approaches into the work we do now, the whole system will continue to improve.
In the same way, you don’t have to fix everything at once to improve your future. If you can make small improvements in different personal and professional areas consistently, eventually the whole system (i.e. your life) will move forward. And that’s the goal.