When you are faced with a blank page

While I'm a pretty good writer, as evidenced by the fact that Contractor magazine has kept me around for 12 years now, I know that I'm an even much better project manager/estimator as evidenced by my track record.

I stare at this blank page and it feels like I honestly don't know what to do next. But that's incorrect; I do know what I need to do. For better or worse, for truth or fibs, I call myself among other things a professional writer, and a professional writer always pays attention to details, always meets deadlines and always manages somehow to put words to paper or laptop screen for the purposes of entertainment, education, faux enlightenment and sometimes even unintentional amusement.

I stare at the now-blank page of my 30+ year career in project managing and senior-level estimating and with each passing day I feel that I know less and less about what to do next. But that’s incorrect, my friends, I know what I need to do next, it's just admittedly harder for me to face the facts that I need to lower my sights regarding the actual level of future career prospects, start looking for any opportunity that's even closely related to my track record and begin cold-calling on doors more local to home since that’s where I know what opportunities will be found. While I'm a pretty good writer, as evidenced by the fact that Contractor magazine has kept me around for 12 years now, I know that I'm an even much better project manager/estimator as evidenced by my track record.

The fact that those past accomplishments are indeed in the past and fading fast, as I look in the rearview mirror and need to focus on what's ahead and not what's behind me, simply means that there has to be a mental changing-of-the-guard in my attitude and heart.

I have to make a concerted effort to let go of the baggage of the past and keep my eyes on the prize, which is nothing more than the purest of survival from my middle-age into my maybe reachable retirement years. I know many of you reading this are in a similar boat, might or will be soon, or have friends and colleagues in this mutually-shared lifeboat caused by The Great Recession, sinking the mothership of our industry.

Blank pages aren't necessarily bad either for writers, PMs, estimators or other middle management folks. Blank pages aren't actually blank, but are places of whitespace. Whitespace is a good thing, it gives us time to pause, refresh, assess and regain our centers, so we can make better and more correct decisions.

Blank pages give us needed rest and time to be able to get rid of bad habits, bad people and bad memories that have negatively influenced our lives and careers up until now. Blank pages give the writer, in this case maybe you being the author of your own life, a chance to create something closer to the heart, to define or redefine what is or isn’t important to you, so that every word, every action from here on out has a stronger and more positive impact on what happens next in your life.

Blank pages can also sometimes overwhelm, smother and even kill the motivation and spirit to take the first simple step such as hitting the first key on the keyboard to start cranking the words out or getting up the courage to make that first call, not of begging but of sincere burnt offering appreciation of your own situation, and then saying the words into the telephone, "Hi, it's me, I know it's been a long time… If you've got a minute, I really do need your help."

The blank page doesn't care about you one way or the other, but don't take it personally, it's just a blank page. The blank page of your future also doesn't care about you either even though it's your future; it's just the rest of your life staring back at you blankly, that's all. Don't try to out stubborn the blank page or your blank future because they have all the patience of time on their side and you'll lose in a staring contest with them.

Figure out something, anything, that you can do now and which will result in what I call a "little victory." Write that opening sentence to grab readers' attentions. It might be helpful to stop by to see an old friend or colleague who may or may not be in a similar situation to yours to ask how they've been. They will hopefully tell you their story and from that you may pick up one or two small bits of advice or knowledge, rumors of a company getting a new contract here or someone getting ready to retire and create a precious new job opening there. Even if those don't result in the major victory of you getting hired soon someone will at least point your focus in a better direction to where your chances will increase.

A blank page is not a trackless desert devoid of all direction and hope. It's an open invitation for you to fill in the blank spaces with moments of your own creation as you decide what will be best for you as time, life and your career moves forward, sometimes with sweet caresses and sometimes with hard kickings. Usually a blend of the two creates you, if you don't create it first, as the MS Project Chart of your life inexorably moves towards completion.

Craig is a second-generation mechanical contractor with unlimited Master's licenses in boilers, air conditioning, heating and plumbing. You may contact him via e-mail at: [email protected].