The Power of Showing Up for Yourself: A Conversation with Trinette Johnson-Williams

by Chris Reeder-Young | photos by Nicole Craig

Tell me a little about yourself.

I’m originally from Mississippi, but I moved to Memphis from Puerto Rico in 1989. I went to the University of Memphis for Management Information Systems and worked at FedEx as a project manager for 10 years. Let me tell you though, I longed to be outside working on construction sites and building stuff.

The biggest moment in my life happened when my wife asked me, “What do you want to be?” And it was the first time I felt like I had the freedom to explore my construction dream; so, I shifted toward that dream. In 2016 after 22 years, I left FedEx. Then, I completed a technical certificate in Architectural/Construction Fundamentals. After almost 160 job applications later, I decided to carve my own place to do what I’m most passionate about! So, I opened up my own business, TJ Builds, in 2018. In 2019, I graduated from Drexel University with a Masters in Construction Management from the College of Engineering. I had worked with Habitat for Humanity of Greater Memphis through FedEx Cares program building homes and interned in the construction industry.

What led you to woodworking and construction management?

I got my inspiration and passions about woodworking from my dad. We would draw plans, measure things, and learn how to use and name tools.

I was motivated and excited as a child to build and create things from scratch. I watched both of my parents work their daytime degree-holding jobs but come home and be so skilled in their home lives with home repairs, sewing, cooking, and teaching us kids those important skills.

They always taught me that I could do what I put my heart to. In fact, I got into a little bit of trouble at 7 years old because I wanted to build a Go Kart like the one I had seen on Little Rascals. I got out dad’s huge Craftsman drill that was bigger than half my body and tried to get to work building my Go Kart! My parents always encouraged me but always taught me to do things safely. I’ve stayed with that same family tradition of teaching my nieces and nephews how to use tools, how to build things, and got them their own tool belts and sets.

What advice do you have for people who are getting into this field?

Be present and show up at your industry events. No one is going to come find you, you have to let your passion drive where you go in this world and networking is important. People can’t say they’ve never heard of me, because I have advocated and networked and shown up.

I had to ask myself, “What do I need to do to connect?” I had to reach out to women-led spaces and show what I was bringing to this field. I joined NAWIC, National Association of Women in Construction, to stay connected and informed, and also gave back to the group. You just keep trying to find the spot in this world that makes you the happiest and most successful. People may look at you like you don’t belong, but if you’re walking proudly in your purpose, your place in this world can’t be taken from you.

What does it mean to work for yourself?

When someone invites me to bid on a project, it comes directly from my heart. I build forever, and I select the types of projects that work best for my passions and clients. I work in my shop, not at someone’s home, until it’s ready to be installed. Working in my own space makes a huge difference for my well being. I have autonomy of my schedule, and I get to set realistic goals for myself and the clients. I have work-life balance, and that protects me from burnout. I do what I love, even when it gets hard. I’m my own evaluator, and I don’t have to work with people who don’t respect the craft. My wife encourages me to reward my success with breaks and to pay attention to my mind and body to keep a healthy quality of life.

What are your future dream projects?

I would love to build out a bigger building for classes and to teach women about construction, woodworking, how to use tools, and to feel empowered to build their own things or repair their own things. I’ve always wanted to start a video series or podcast to share the information that my dad shared with me. I want to share about the lessons learned, and the bumps and bruises, and the pieces of advice I got so others can learn too.

Check out Instagram video of TJ’s work with Girls, Inc. and teaching how to build a lemonade stand! 

Here’s TJ Builds on Reno My Rental

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