Is there life after Oxford?

Looking back on my year at Oxford, I feel much like Charles Dickens who said, "I was innocent myself once, but live and learn is an old saying, and a true one." Adult life and learning began for me at Oxford, however, it is still an ongoing and continuous process. Whether through our own choice or by chance of circumstances, life requires us to learn new lessons and to acquire new skills.

Looking back on my life from this vantage point, I see it as being somewhat like a maze. There are paths which go nowhere and others which lead in the right direction. At Oxford I received my basic training in "maze running"--how to deal with wrong turns and blinds alleys, and how to view the process as being positive instead of becoming defeated by the end of this particular alley. The fact that I failed a course of study and had to change my plans for the future are the reasons that I am a successful steel erector today. Failure is a very important part of the learning process. We have a natural fear of failure--no one wants to fail--and yet the fear of it can be immobilizing, because fear is not the best motivator. However, if we learn how to fail--learn it like any other skill--the knowledge that we can successfully overcome failure is very encouraging. Losing your fear means that you will be willing to take the risks that are necessary to become successful at any endeavor.

Attitude goes hand-in-hand with overcoming fear and dealing with losses. While pursuing my new course of study at Oxford following my failure, I learned that I did have control over my attitude toward any circumstance. I might not be able to control the people around me, the politics, or the other parts of my environment, but I had complete control over my own actions and attitude within this framework. Between every word that was said to me or action that I was involved with, there was always a response time in which I could choose how to view what was happening. I could choose to be positive--even if others were not, even if the circumstances were not.

These two very important lessons have helped me not only to cope with change in life, but to actually enjoy the challenge of dealing with changes. My chosen profession--the construction industry--is one of constant change. I have never done the same structure twice, which means that with each new project, I must price a job I have never done before and project a schedule to complete it--never knowing what the weather, labor conditions, wage rates or politics can do to it. Having been awarded the contract based on my projections, I have the not-too-wonderful knowledge that I was the lowest number and everyone else in my business thinks it will cost more than I do to complete. All these variables make for a very challenging, daily changing place to work and live in.

Sharon Chafin '70Ox 72C '73G is president of Sharon Construction Company, Inc. This article is based on a talk she gave at Oxford College on Sept. 23.Concrete contribution

Although Sharon Chafin searched like everyone else to find her seats in the new Olympic Stadium, the walls of the arena were already familiar. Her company, Sharon Construction, erected the large, precast panels on the Olympic Stadium.

"Essentially," she explained "I covered the entire exterior of the stadium with big chunks of welded-in-place concrete."

Chafin's involvement with the stadium has extended beyond the Olympic Games, because her company will also help transform the facility into the new home of the Atlanta Braves for the 1997 season.

This was her largest contract to date, but her business has handled other sizable projects, including erecting the structural steel for the new atrium at Hartsfield International Airport. Chafin, who began her business 10 years ago after building her own house, was one of only two female contractors working directly on the Olympic Stadium and the only female project manager on site.

"When I went to the subcontractor meetings, I was one woman among 50 men," she said. "I'm kind of accustomed to that, but not in such a large group. There's been a really strong feeling of teamwork with everyone who has participated in the construction of this stadium, a spirit of giving to the community through this work. All of us have had to give intellectually and emotionally and financially. Our personalities and assets have been put to work collectively to make these things happen."

--Allison Adams, reprinted with permission from Emory Magazine

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