Paul Morrell: If I had to start again ...

I think we're programmed against regret, but given the luxury of living one life and being invited to dream of another, it would be a waste to make them both the same.

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Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

So my alter ego would probably have been a barrister. My father was a building contractor and there was a presumption that I would follow him. It was therefore good of him, when I resisted the science stream at school, to respond that 'Any fool can do Physics'. Instead, I studied English, economics and languages.

For university, I flirted with English (with one eye on journalism), languages (which I thought might come in handy in business - until my sister pointed out that there wasn't a waiter in London who wasn't bilingual), philosophy and the law. That I finished up reading quantity surveying was undeniably the result of parental 'encouragement'; but I hedged my bets by studying for the Bar as well, until forced to choose between careers after a change in the rules for the Bar.

Construction's attraction was its product - material evidence of one's efforts; whereas I feared that the satisfaction of the law might be more ephemeral: you win, you lose, you move on. The only other possibility was architecture, but I lacked the creative imagination and thought it would be better to do something I could be good at. I have since discovered that almost everyone working in construction is a frustrated architect - including many of the architects. Nonetheless, the industry has been good to me, the source of many friendships and much personal fulfilment, and I don't hesitate in encouraging others to follow.

Other advice? Be better than everybody else at something; embrace growth as the antidote to atrophy; and attach a proper value to what you do. There is no limit to how much work you can get if you don't insist on payment, and the potential for profitless growth is infinite.

- Paul Morrell is retiring after 35 years with international construction consultant Davis Langdon, which included five years as senior partner.

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