Interview with Veronika McIntyre – Red Seal Carpenter. Before I realized I should hit record, we were already into our conversation and I was into hearing the details of my friends journey that I somehow never made time for. The details about her journey to becoming a Red Seal Carpenter.
She was explaining her hairstyle when she was a teenager growing up in Germany: Short. Very short, with two longer strips starting from her neck ending right up above her eyebrows in two long dyed purple pieces she styled into horns. I never knew this about her and I’m trying to picture my, sweet, talented, quiet confident amazing friend with purple horn hair…..
It takes guts to pull off hair like that and guts to leave home to find your own path. ‘Guts’ could have been the thread connecting our whole conversation.
Right from the first time I met her, through hiring her Carpentry skills, to being a leader I’ve turned to, Veronica’s fearlessness, quiet confidence, and there being SO much more to her than first seems has always been so endearing to me. Spend two minutes in conversation with her and she brings up other women she is inspired by or looks up to. She is so funny and honest and real and I can’t stop thinking about this conversation!
I love hearing how other women are killing it in their careers and lives and I want to share this supportive feeling because I see parts of myself in her story and hope that someone else will see themselves in her story too and
be inspired to fearlessly pursue whatever lights them up!
Veronika McIntyre – Red Seal Carpenter
We talk about ….. Balance. Assumptions. Support. Boundaries. Creativity and Grace.
Lisa – Let’s just start there. How did you get interested in carpentry? From staying on your cousins ranch? How did that all happen?
Veronika- Ya. I was staying at my cousins ranch. They were building at that time so there was construction and then just a lot of physical outdoors stuff. Then when I decided to stay in Canada, I was just surfing College and University websites and looking at courses that were available and I saw that there was a Carpentry course available here in Williams Lake at TRU which would make it a lot easier because I could just stay at my cousins place.
Going to University in say Vancouver as an international student would have been brutally expensive and I may not have been able to do it with cost of living and everything. I was interested in it anyway. I love building stuff and thought
‘If I could figure out how to do it right; learn how to do it properly, I think that’s something I’d be interested in doing.’
So they pretty much accepted me unconditionally and I think that’s because international students have to pay the full cost of the course there is no government part that’s paid.
L- So I don’t know what my next question was supposed to be, but what I want to know now is where did you find the courage to do that? It takes a certain amount of courage to just say, ‘You know what, I’m doing it! I’m signing up and I’m doing it.’
V- I don’t think at the time I thought of it as courageous. Now, this is 20 years down the road from when I made that decision, and
I think it was partly “ignorance is bliss” right, I didn’t think at ALL of the fact that I’m going to be an oddball and I’m way, way, way far away from home.
I was just in that happy go lucky phase of my life and just anything that appealed to me I would jump at the chance. Really not thinking that there could be anything really difficult about it. I took that 1 year pre apprenticeship course that counts for your first year. The instructor was good and I did well.
L- We were talking earlier and you said you had done quite a bit of travelling. That takes courage too.
V- I think so, except I didn’t see it that way at the time at all. It’s just what I was doing and it was exciting, it was awesome and I was doing it. I know. A lot of people ask me that.
L- That is amazing! Just intuitively leaning into what feels good. Just ‘I’m liking this. It feels really good for me so I’m going to do more of it’ I think a lot of people struggle with listening to those gut feelings.
V- Yes. … yes. But that’s really what it was. It was a gut decision. You know, I didn’t do any research like what kind of job opportunities are there going to be? What kind of a wage am I going to be paid? Blah, blah, blah. It was just I saw it and I was like, ‘this is cool. I’m interested.’
That was it. I had latched onto that idea and I wanted it.
V- Just like with travelling. I didn’t think about the cost or the consequences or anything like that.
The opportunity came up and I said ‘yeah, that’s what I want.’
“I want to sink my teeth into a project and be able to focus on that. It’s good for my mind”
L- Was your family supportive of those decisions? To travel and then not go home and get a trade?
V- They were more accepting of it. My mum definitely wanted me to come back and go to university and she also wanted me to, if I was going to stay away, to go to University rather than just do a trade. But she’s always been someone who’s really respected my decisions. Even when I was really young and even if she didn’t agree with them, she would respect them.
L- Wow. So great. So I want to know, because I’ve only recently been paying attention to this myself, but what does it feel like, for you, when you are in the zone while working? Is that something you’ve even paid attention to?
L- Do you loose track of time because you are just in it…or ?
V- Ya. I know what you mean. No. I don’t think it’s quite like that. The first time I went back to work after having had Ilene, she was between 1 1/2 and 2, and I realized at one point, ‘wow, I haven’t actually thought about her for a full hour or two.’ I was like ‘that is amazing’. So far every waking hour of my life since she was born she’s been on my mind and she’s been around me and there hasn’t really been any time where my mind was completely focused on something different and that first day back to work was like ‘wow’
L- It was nice?
V- It was nice and it was weird. I like to focus on work. Part of what I like about work is that I get to focus on it, right, because I like to plan something out and then follow my plan and approach it that way. Maybe that’s how I can describe my version of being in the zone. There isn’t a gazillion things to distract me and I don’t have to constantly interrupt. Does that make any sense or an answer to the question? I dunno?
L- Yes it totally answers the question. Just getting to execute, because your very, I want to say ‘meticulous’ but I don’t think that’s quite right, but your very thorough.
V- Methodical, maybe.
L- Yes. Methodical. So it just feels good doing all your steps?
V- Yeah. To be able to make a plan think it through and then follow through with it. Whereas if your working with kids around, right,
it’s the constant ‘you make a plan and then get started and then an interruption comes along and then you have to rethink the plan’
and that’s not just with kids obviously, it’s an important skill to have too. To be able to improvise your plans because things come up on the job site too. I like that about a workday when I can just make a plan and roll with it. It’s also a nice thing about working for myself.
L- I want to ask you about working for yourself and the new niche you’ve made for yourself. Since you’ve had kids work has had to evolve for you. Did you plan that out or did it happen organically? How did that all happen?
V- Ya. That totally just happened. When I went back to work and just because of how I work, you know, I’m sure I told you this when I started that first project for you, and
I tell everyone when I start that I work on a family first basis.
That means I only have x amount of hours to put in and they are determined by daycare and school and other family commitments. If one of my kids gets sick then I’m at home until they are better. So big projects were out of the question by necessity and people who have a strict deadline are also out of the question by necessity.
L- It’s so great to have that up front, right, so that people you’re working for know how you operate. That’s kind of freeing.
V- If I didn’t tell people that and then I was constantly gone or not showing up, that could make someone angry and understandably so, but if I tell them up front how I work and they’re ok with it then I think that’s fair enough.
I feel I fill that niche market of small jobs because I know a lot of Carpinter’s aren’t going to do something like install a front door and that’s it, I mean I do bigger jobs too but that’s definitely a niche market.
There’s a need for it and I feel like that’s a need I can fill and it fits in well with my schedule. I can do something for people that they would otherwise have a hard time finding someone for and they’re usually very grateful that they found someone.
L- That is amazing and something that not just people working for themselves but huge companies struggle with – how to evolve. But not just how to evolve. How to evolve and thrive – and you’ve done it and are doing it so gracefully.
“On the whole I really like what I do and I’m excited about doing it”
V- Yeah, ‘organic’ is the right word. It was absolutely not planned because it’s just what works.
L- I feel like you already answered this question a bit, but a while back when you were doing some renovations for me and I was at home with my newborn son we were chatting and you said that going back to work became really important to you and I was just SO intensely feeling the same way and wasn’t hearing it from anyone else in my life that I would love for you to try to explain that again.
V- Yeah. It’s partly what we just talked about. For me, I pretty much had my kids with me all the time when they were little and I loved it too, I have to say, it’s what I wanted. I craved my babies company and I wanted them there all the time and I really enjoyed that but then your relationship evolves as they get older.
I was also craving being me again and being able to focus on something, not necessarily me
some moms crave going for a pedicure and having that uninterrupted time – for me it’s more like I want to sink my teeth into a project and be able to focus on that. It’s good for my mind to be able to focus on something by myself where my child is not the centre of my thinking. Is that what you were asking?
La Leche League Canada
When I introduced Veronika as “a leader I’ve turned to”, she is a volunteer with the worldwide organization: La Leche League supporting breastfeeding women and families and she is characteristically passionate about that.
L- Yes! I loved hearing it at the time and I still do because now that I have a son I feel that most people expected me to choose to give up my career and stay with him. When my career is good for my mind too and feeling fulfilled helps me be a better mom. Thank you for that support and helping me put words to those feelings.
V- There are people who choose not to go back to work, I totally respect that and maybe they made a huge sacrifice, but I feel that sometimes people just have a job.
But for me my job is something that, yeah, sometimes it annoys me. Sometimes I’d rather stay in bed. And sometimes there’s things I don’t want to do. But on the whole I really like what I do and I’m excited about doing it. Because it was something in my life that I worked hard for and I feel proud of, that’s not something I want to just let go forever.
L- Have you ever experienced any issues around being a woman in trades and then what have you found is the best way, for you, of dealing with it?
V- A little bit. I’m self employed so since I’ve worked for myself if someone hires me they’re obviously aware of the fact I’m a woman and if someone doesn’t hire me because I’m a woman, then there are plenty of other people they can hire. But before when I was apprenticing – I don’t know that anybody had a real issue on it-
I guess the funniest thing about it was that a lot of people thought I was either my bosses wife or daughter
because age wise the difference between us was right at that point where it could have been either and people would ask my crew if they were too embarrassed to ask me “so is she [his] wife or daughter?”
L- (laughing) “Neither, actually”
V- And they’d say, “She’s not. She works here”
L- (laughing) Like those are the only options.
V- Exactly. That’s the ONLY reason I might POSSIBLY work here.
A lot of the time that’s the assumption and I just thought it was more funny than anything. And he thought it was funny too. The only thing that’s ever really bothered me is the odd person who just thinks because I’m a woman that is their que to come out and flirt with me.
I’m like, “you wouldn’t flirt with this guy over here – he’s good looking – you could flirt with him” but no,
just because I’m a woman doesn’t mean you can come along and “haha, your the best looking carpenter I’ve ever seen”
“women in trades that I’ve met [become]…personality role models. We talk and there’s aspects of their attitude or how they go about it and I’m like ‘this is really awesome. This inspires me.’ I really want to incorporate that attitude or outlook or something into into how I approach my life.”
L- What are you excited about right now? What’s next for you? Is there something within carpentry or something else you want to go after?
V- Work wise I don’t know. As a family (my husband) Matt and I are talking about some kind of adventure. I think it was spearheaded by me because I’m more an adventure seeker. I crave adventure. We have been talking for a little while about becoming more self sustainable. But that’s sort of where we’re at. I’ll say on the verge of some kind of a change.
L- Ooh! That’s exciting.
V- Ya! Very exciting. We were wondering should we stay where we are and build something on our property and continue to develop it and I feel like we’re in that saying where “you can’t see the forest for the trees”. We need some distance from our little world so that we can see what we want again. And work of course ties into it. Now that [the girls are older] we are totally in a position where I could be the main moneymaker again. Opportunities are wide open for just about everything.
L- That’s the great thing about a trade – you can take it anywhere.
V- And it’s needed everywhere. Everywhere people live your going to need a carpenter or a welder or an electrician – those basic trades.
L- That answers my next question about your husband, Matt, being supportive of you. He obviously is and doesn’t seem to have any hang ups about traditional ‘roles’.
V- It would certainly be a period of adjustment. I feel like being the main family manager takes a lot more work than it looks like, but he’s open to it for sure which is cool it would be cool for the kids to have that.
L- Do you have a role model?
V- No. No one in particular. I’ve honestly never worked with another female carpenter. There’s a lot of women in trades that I’ve met, like I’ve met you. I’ve met an electrician when I was doing my schooling and
quite often they’re sort of partial personality role models.
We talk and there’s aspects of their attitude or how they go about it and I’m like ‘this is really awesome. This inspires me.’ I really want to incorporate that attitude or outlook or something into into how I approach my life as a woman in trades.
L- That’s so interesting! Because I feel like ppl really like to try and define us. Like a woman in trades is this set thing and what blows me away is that the female tradespeople I’ve met are so different. All these personalities fit trades so well! So when you say you take the things each person you meet is doing well is just amazing advise!
V- That’s totally true, right, there’s a stereotype. Like everybody expects- I don’t know that everybody expects that- but I think a lot of people expect that women in trades are really manly in their whole approach to life and it’s not really the truth at all. Most all women in trades that I’ve personally met have some typically female interests or hobbies and I think that’s sometimes surprising to people, that we’re actually just women. We just like to do this for a living.
L- Do you go by Journey Person or Journeyman?
V- I go by journey person. Because I think sometimes when people insist on changing little details like that it seems kinda petty or pernickety but if nobody ever makes the change, nothing’s ever going to change. I think it does affect people’s thinking when somebody is called a ‘man’ that’s how you are defining it and I don’t want to be defined (as that) – like we were talking earlier, sometimes people are surprised that we’re actually just women who happen to be doing this (job) that men usually do.
But if you keep defining it as journeyman then I don’t want to define myself as that and it perpetuates it.
My last day of carpentry school, year 4, I was asking my instructor,”so if I’m sending out resumes can I call myself a journeyman carpenter as soon as I’m finished my exam?” and my instructor said, “you’re not a journeyman carpenter at all you’re a journey person carpenter.” He was just kind of chuckling about it right, and I was like, ‘yeah, true, I’m not a man why would I call myself that?’ So I go by journey person. Yes.
L- It’s a weird distinction. it does seem a bit archaic or out of date.
V- It is a weird distinction. What we really need to see is men calling themselves Journey Person Carpenters or Journey Person Welders or whatever because then we’ve got equality because they’re persons too.
L- Absolutely. I’ve heard journey woman thrown around a bit and I’m like ‘mmmm no. not sure if I like that’ because it’s an other. It makes it/us different by using a different, separate word. There doesn’t need to be a different word if it means the same thing.
V- It shouldn’t be separated.
L- No. Using the same word for the same position.
V- Yeah. Same qualifications
V- It probably will be at some point in the future.
L- Okay. Thank for clarifying that for me too. I feel like I just got to talk through that and make up my mind in line with how you feel. I was calling myself journeyman because that’s all I ever heard it called. All the testing and practical was to become a journeyman, it’s what other people called themselves too, and because I did the same tests, had the same qualifications, and applying for the same jobs, I wanted to be called the same title.
L- At the same time as all that, it would be naive to think that there weren’t some physical differences. How do you approach that?
V- Everybody has strengths and weaknesses. There’s the things I’m good at and the things I’m not good at.
Like the really heavy lifting and sometimes I’m able to get help and that’s nice and if I’m not able to get help then I have to get creative and think of a way to do it that somebody with a lot more muscle wouldn’t have to think of a different way to do the same thing. But somebody big and bulky would have to crawl under a mobile home and install something or crawl into a cabinet to install or do something, they would have to get creative too.
L- Has anybody really pushed you to learn and how did they do that? I feel like a big help for me was the people who let me fail – not in a mean way- but letting me struggle and work it out for myself and then maybe suggesting an easier way.
V- So they let you have the experience of what didn’t work?
L- Yes. Does that tie into being creative and finding your own way?
V- Who has pushed me….I’m really bad for not being able to let things just slide off of me. I really take things personally. Even if I can tell ‘this is your problem. That other persons just in a grumpy mood today. This is not my fault.’ It still hits me really hard. If somebody gets mad, especially for something I actually did do wrong, I know it’s not actually that big of a deal.
L- …because you know you can fix it?
V- Now being able to work by myself and just being able to make a mistake and just going like (shrug) ‘Huh, I guess I’ll have to fix that’ right, that’s been probably the biggest one for me. Just (learning) being able to do that without the pressure of feeling someone’s scorn – that’s been the best!
L- Do you put a lot of pressure on yourself?
V- Maybe in a way I do but generally I don’t get long term mad at myself if I make a mistake.
I’ve never made a mistake that was so bad it cost me all my profits on a job.
No. Maybe in the moment like ‘ugh, man what an idiot’ but then I get over it too and I’m like ‘okay, let’s fix it.’ I’m far from perfect so what the heck?
L- It’s so nice to give yourself that room, that grace, like ‘I’m really good but sometimes I fuck up and that’s okay’.
V- Yep. Everybody does. I tend to cluster fuck up. I have days in a row where I do really well and don’t make any mistakes to speak of and then I have 1 day where I’m like mistake, mistake, mistake. Do you find that too?
L- (laughing) Yes. Sometimes it just snowballs and I’m like ‘where is this coming from?’. What is that?
V- I dunno. I don’t know what it is. If it’s my energy or cosmic energy…
L- Obviously you know when you’re having a day like that, how do you stop it?
V- What I sometimes have to do is remind myself to ‘Ok. Take a break. Don’t push through right now when I’m frazzled because I just made the third mistake of the day. But this is the time. Take a break. Take a step back and then get back at it.’ But, yeah, no. I have yet to figure out how to keep myself from cluster fucking up.
L- (laughing) This is why I’m so interested in asking, how do you do it? Because I want to know!!
V- I think everybody makes mistakes. It’s just some people space them out evenly and I tend to cluster them.
L- You said something really important there. Being able to recognize when it’s happening (that may be the easy part) and then coach yourself through those first few moments when your maybe not thinking clearly and then also knowing yourself and what you need to refocus. In your case you said just a step back. A break. A think. To just get back at it. Amazing!! I think you actually ARE doing an amazing job at that because you just walked me through the steps of your process. Thank you!!!
L- Will you let me include your contact info with this interview?
V- Sure. I haven’t done any advertising. If I were trying to work full, full time, I don’t think ‘word of mouth’ would quite keep me going. I would probably have to do some advertising. But as it is for now, yeah, I’ve never needed a business card or anything.
L- I really like that about trades, your work can speak for itself.
V- Honestly I don’t feel like I have any special skills. Like there’s some Carpenters that can freehand things that just blow your mind, right, and I would have to lay that out and clamp on a guide and then very carefully cut it and then touch it up and THEN it might look the same. But someone with awesome skill can just freehand it and it’s like ‘wow, I just… it blows my mind the work you do’ I feel like I don’t have any special skills like that.
I feel MY main assets are, first of all, the work I do is nice and neat and I don’t fuck up very much.
And the other thing is that I’m more accommodating. I know a lot of carpenters who are very opinionated about how things ‘should’ be done or they’re like ‘I do this. I don’t do that’ or ‘no. It can’t be don’t that way blah, blah, blah. If you ask me to do something really hokey, I’ll say no but other than that, you’re the customer, I’ll do what you want. And I feel like those are my 2 biggest strengths and probably why someone would recommend me.
L- Yeah. I feel that’s super accurate. It does speak for itself.
V- There’s also some people who like the idea of supporting a woman in trades. People who, if they had the choice between me or someone else that they think equally highly of in terms of work, they might recommend me just because they like the idea of [supporting] a woman in trades.
L- Interesting. We talked at the beginning about stereotypes being a reason someone might treat you differently and I thought of it as a negative but it may ALSO actually be the exact same reason you get a job.
V- Exactly. I think that’s totally the flip side if it. The same reason might have gotten me as many jobs as its cost me.
L- So it kinda al works out. I feel like our conversation just made a full circle. That’s so cool.
Okay. I have a last question. I actually have two and I’m not sure which one to go with so I’ll ask you both. If you were one of your tools, which would you be and why?
V- (without hesitation) My impact driver. I love that thing. And because it can do a lot more than what it looks like!
L- (laughing) …best describes you! – I love it!
Ok. So the other final question is, if you were a drink what would you be and why?
V- Hmm some kind of mixed drink. Something odd where you drop a shot into a glass of something that sounds gross but is actually amazing. It would have to be a mixed drink because I’m such an oddball. I don’t know the recipe but something where you drop a shot of something into a glass of a strange mix – maybe milk – and it sounds terrible but you try it and it’s actually delicious.
L- (laughing) Great answers!
Thank you for taking this time to chat with me and thank you so much for your example!
You have definitely become a personality role model for me!
I think sometimes women can feel like they are in competition with each other and when everyones path is so different, it’s not always healthy to compare. I really feel that instead of competing with you, I am supported by you. When I first approached you with an ask for this project I said you model SO well the quote,
“When we lift each other, we all rise”
And this talk with you has just further proved how vital that mindset is and how important it is we continue to share our stories and keep ourselves inspired. Again, thank you!
Check out the Collapsible Work Stand PLANS. Our collaboration and my way to say thank you to my friend Veronika McIntyre – Red Seal Carpenter for sharing and to you for reading.