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  • Writer's pictureTristan Wilson

A big mistake (one of many)

Early in my career as a field engineer for a large heavy civil contractor at age 22, I undertook a task on I-95: laying out 2.1 miles of asphalt leveling. This was during a time when 3D paving wasn't the norm, so we used traditional methods like string line and paint. Eager to demonstrate my expertise, gained from multiple summers on a paving crew, I confidently volunteered to lead the layout crew. Little did I know, I was about to learn a crucial lesson.





After two days of painting the asphalt canvas, an issue arose with the cross slopes and PGL on one side of the toll lanes. Before the crew started laying mix, a roller operator brought this to my attention, remarking, “Buddy, there’s nowhere for the water to go.” His observation highlighted my error before we progressed further. I had laid out one side of the road with slopes opposite of the plans. 🤦‍♂️



Feeling mortified, I immediately contacted my boss, the General Superintendent, admitting my mistake. His response was both surprising and enlightening: “Thanks for telling me. It’s all getting covered up anyways and good thing we caught it before. I’m sending you a couple of guys to come back and get it right, and I’ll be there in a few minutes myself to make sure you get off to a good start.” True to his word, he arrived and guided me through the correct layout process again, which we then successfully implemented.



This experience was transformative, teaching me that mistakes, especially in high-pressure roles like front-line supervision and fieldwork, are opportunities for learning and growth for honest folks who put forth the effort. My boss’s constructive approach, focusing on support rather than reprimand, not only improved my skills but also strengthened our relationship. This incident highlights the importance of grace and humility in our industry, particularly valuable in a time of labor shortage. It’s a powerful reminder that honest mistakes are a natural part of the learning curve, and a supportive environment is key to professional development. I’m grateful for the leadership and mentorship I received, which continues to influence my approach to work and collaboration. We are still friends to this day.



How have you turned a mistake into a learning opportunity in your career, and what impact did it have on your professional growth?


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