Mondays, Tests and Triumphs

I don’t know why Mondays have such a terrible reputation.

I love Mondays!

Wanna see me stressed to the max?

Swing by my office on a Wednesday or a Friday.


Mondays have the benefit of a two-day relax and recharge.

I love it!

By mid to end week I’m running on fumes and extending every effort to stay on top of my game.

My husband just moved to a new area at work and he has been doing several twelve hour shifts, so my helper and chef lol are MIA for a while.

I know how drained I used to be after a twelve and his area is not an easy one.

Been there!

Plus, we’re both new parents on top of it all.

We’re both mechanical/skilled trades. He’s a Trade Specialist Millwright (fancy for saying specially skilled) and I’m a mechanical maintenance planner for buildings and infrastructure in a different department.

We both started out as millwright apprentices and graduated from the same college program.

When we talk at home, our similar work experience in steelmaking makes it easy conversation because I know what he means when there is a “breakout” or what a casting segment is, etc.

Trade talk is our second language and it makes a difference having the same understanding when I’m talking about old coke lines coming out or what’s going on regarding roof repairs in my building.

My Dad retired from the same steel mill we work at after 41 years of service.

The plant we work at has been in my family for generations and now I hope to retire here one day, too.

Steel is my lifeblood.

And I hope to continue my efforts to maintain and upgrade the building that’s been around for over a hundred years by providing service to its buildings and infrastructure.

We all work together and have created a network that makes us not only a company, but a family.

I don’t know what it’s like to work in any other industry but a fastener is a fastener, a bearing is a bearing and it doesn’t matter what product, shape or size manufacturing takes; there is a process to learn and a universal language to help you understand it to the core.

If you are like I once was, even the terminology can be intimidating at first.

You could try to talk to me about mechanics until you were blue in the face, but before I knew what a bearing actually was by seeing it in action and taking a cast iron housing apart for repair of said bearingyou may as well have been speaking a foreign language.

On top of that, I am perfectly aware of the perception that I give off, especially in the beginning of my career.

To some, I’m a “cutesy little girl” who seems innocent – and perhaps naive — and some people actually mistook my quiet introspection for lack of interest.

I was too intimidated to say anything at first but eventually, I found mentors I resonated with who helped me learn by offering me different ways to look at things.

It took time, patience and much frustration – especially on their part I’m sure – but I was/am always thankful for them and they knew/know that.

I’m still learning and it’s been over six years since I began in the trade.

Patience, young grasshopper.

People are people.

Some people are too within themselves to see past the fact that I’m a small female, so I just looked elsewhere for a teacher.

Simple as that.

It doesn’t matter who you are. If you want to be a tradesman, you can do that.

I play to my strengths.

I became exceptionally skilled at pump rebuilds because we dealt with smaller pumps (30 GPM) and the parts didn’t need the hulk to tighten them.

When I was handling a 1″ impact gun during a shutdown or trying to wail on a stuck 2″ nut with a breaker bar and a hammer in the bottom of a grease filled pit – not good practice do not do this lmao – I was less effective with my small stature and usually turned to a hulk-type in my work group after giving it a shot for some giggles.

It’s why I’m now a mechanical maintenance planner and I thank the good Lord (metaphorically…lol) for all of the stars that lined up to put me where I am now.

I never said it was going to be easy…but it is for sure worth it.

That being said though, I passed the same physical test required for all hired millwrights.

The first time I tried the physical test I failed and actually bawled my eyes out the entire way home thinking I had lost my shot at my dream company.

Because the company I work for is amazing, they offered me another chance.

So I tried a second time three months later and failed, again.

This time, I felt like my dreams were about to go for a shit.

Then I got the phone call.

“Hey Kaila. Listen, we want you to try again. Go to the gym, we have one on site if you need one to use, and get your strength up. We have full confidence in you and feel as though you deserve another try.”

I was almost hysterical and happily accepted.

It took me almost one year after I graduated from Mohawk College but I passed that same unaltered physical and began work soon after.

I have told this story before, and these are the responses I’ve had so far:

“What was so hard about it that you failed?”

“Why wouldn’t you have them alter it for women?”

Times have changed. Isn’t that sexist?”

Allow me to expand on those.

When I started as a millwright apprentice, I did not know women were a visible minority in the trade.

But when I started to understand exactly what the job entailed and the environment of industrial manufacturing, I immediately understood.

Like I’ve said, I almost shit my pants on my first day.

I was scared, too.

To better put this as a metaphor, I was like a turtle without a shell and I thought I was going to be eaten alive by sharks.

Instead, I grew a shell and the sharks were actually very nice who only looked intimidating lol.

I voiced my fears “holy shit you guys” and made sure everyone knew I was very green.

“Green” is a term for “new people”.

What does this have to do with the physical?

Well, being a millwright apprentice in steelmaking is probably one of the most physically grueling jobs depending on where you work.

I’ve seen guys at 250 lbs who were like 6’3 break a sweat and have trouble undoing a stubborn nut without an impact gun available because of the tight spot it’s in at the mill.

Yes, you may very well work in a pump rebuild shop within the company.

But it’s never guaranteed where you’ll go or end up so the test is universal to all new hires regardless of who you identify as.

And I think that is fair.

We also have standards where we are not allowed to lift over 30 lbs without use of a crane or support, but the test required us to lift almost three times this weight.

I won’t disclose the exact details due to privacy concerns, but it was tough and I struggled the first two times.

It is because you may be put into a situation where you have to use that strength and it’s a plausible possibility.

I personally wouldn’t want someone physically unfit working beside me at the bottom of the mill who could potentially hurt themselves or me in the process of lifting or especially in an emergency situation that someone needed help.

At the time I passed the third physical I was eating like a horse and working out twice a day with weights.

I was in the best physical shape of my life at that time.

Plus, there are industries with smaller equipment, so if steelmaking isn’t for you but you still want to be a millwright, you can go another route.

Or be an electrician, ya wimp.


Kinda. Lol.

So that leads us to the questions.

What was so hard that you failed?”

I had never done a sport in my life and always hated gym class. Never worked out a day in my life. Not a strong bone in my body. I tried blind and failed. Then I knew what I was in for and because I didn’t want to work anywhere else I fought my damn hardest to gain weight and strength. Gained 15 lbs of muscle and had abs and arms for the first time! And I could lift my 75 lb dog for the first time, too.

“Why wouldn’t you have them alter it for women?”

Because I understood the job. I knew at that time what I was getting into and I also knew there were other options available if I thought I couldn’t do it.

Why would I think that I couldn’t because I am a girl, anyway? I have seen smaller guys do the same work and there was even one other female millwright (who was smaller than me!) and she had passed the year before.

Times have changed. Isn’t that sexist?”


Sure, the test was designed several years ago, before women even began to make an appearance, but the machinery and equipment have not changed.

The test is not sexist or too difficult – believe in yourself.

So that’s my opinion on that.

The culture of the workplace has also had a significant shift within the past six years in my observation.

Those who voiced the most apprehensions to my beginning a trade have now mostly retired and I understood our gap with reference to our situations in time.

I can totally understand that I may potentially be seen as an affront to the history of the steel mill I work at.

These people put their lives into the place like we do now.

And I totally get it.

Some days it felt akin to helping Dad out in the garage; left to the sidelines to hand over the requested tools.

Other days, I’d be paired with a progressive elder or younger folk and be asked to jump right in.

I learned a lot from both experiences and having the benefit of insight helped me because I was able to gauge where my mentor was at before intruding on them as an apprentice, let alone a small female one.

I didn’t wanna fuck around with anybody’s preconceptions and let people be.

And I didn’t have to prove anything to anyone but myself.

When I was on the sidelines I asked a zillion questions, same as if I were inside a cooled-down furnace to repair a broken roll inside…I was and am always asking questions.

The more you know!

I think it’s a weird time in our society right now and even writing as a female mechanic I find myself hesitant to say certain things.

We are trying to force labels on everything and I think instead we should be celebrating our differences while focusing on pressing matters.

What the fuck did she just say?”

I don’t mean to ruffle any feathers.

You do you.

I think if I had spent my time crying about being a small woman and having everything changed to best suit me that would be the worst thing I could have done.

It would have only singled me out further.

I did my best and now I am in a position where my mechanical knowledge is not paired with brawn but instead with my intellectual strength where I am useful as a mechanical maintenance planner.

I’m just being honest here.

I want to be able to share my struggles and observations without worry of reprimand.

I do not believe I’m saying anything harmful but if you find yourself offended then I think you’re on the wrong blog altogether lol.

It’s been one heck of a ride.

And I absolutely love it!

Lastly I’d like to touch on some societal and workplace cultural shifts as observed recently.

It is a lot different working in manufacturing than it was fifty years ago.

And it’s a lot different than it was as early as six years ago.

Safety is priority. It is inclusive. It is diverse.

Don’t worry about fitting in.

Be authentic and try your best.

If you’re a good person with true intentions, you will shine like the sun on a clear day no matter which clouds float by in interruption.

This goes for wherever you find yourself in life.

I thought I’d had it all figured out until I tried to identify myself on social media.

Before I stopped caring lol I felt extremely left out of two distinct “groups” which I should have easily fit right into.

I have always been the outlier.

At first, I felt left out of the new “clubs” for female tradespeople because I can’t post photos of myself on the shop floor and have actually been told not to use the millwright hashtag before.

I don’t want to lose my job.

I feel left out of the “witch” community because I’m not a struggling witch.

I’m a successful one with a career and Tarot income is strictly to pay for the exchange.

Writing takes a lot of time and effort and I can’t give that shit away for free, y’all.

This blog is written to provide as much information as a resource for you as I possibly can.

I’ve been met with accusations of being egotistical because of the posts of selfies and my body.

The truth is that I used to hate my face and body for so many years, and now I see it exactly the way my mom did…

…with nothing but love and appreciation.

I am my own muse now.

If someone expresses disquiet because of your my photographs this is reflective of their state of mind and not of you me.

So my point is that it’s okay not to fit in the box.

Don’t worry about trying to create a label for your box.

I’m all sorts of things.

Mom. Wife. Tradesperson. Witch. Mental Health Advocate.


No label is necessary – be that in your career life or on social media.

Just be yourself and use your energy to make your life a living dream like I did instead of wasting it on trying to have everyone else accept you.

And if they come for you because you post your face or body or because you’re a chick mechanic using a damn hashtag…

..then fuck ’em!

We are not immortal.

it is up to you to make your life the most valuable it can be now.

Do not waste time arguing with one another over labels or hashtags.

We must intrinsically accept ourselves and the fact that we can’t control the other or their perceptions of us.

It’s empowering and strengthening to own your worth instead of allowing another person to judge your value and it will set you free.

Life is too short for anything short of magic – no box required.

Kaila A. Notto

Copyright © The Mindful Millwright 2019. All Rights Reserved.

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