Last weekend my family moved into our new home, which needs many minor renovations. Things like re-sealing toilets, gutter cleaning and caulking, fence-repair, dimmer-switch-installing, and many similar tasks me uncomfortable because I suck at them. A recent HBR article by Andy Molinsky argues that this might be a good thing. “These tasks aren’t just unpleasant; they’re also necessary. As we grow and learn in our jobs and in our careers, we’re constantly faced with situations where we need to adapt our behavior,” says Molinsky. “It’s simply a reality of the world we work in today.” Molinsky is referring to things like speaking up in meetings, not rototilling a lawn, but I’m developing a lot of new abilities by tackling these unpleasant tasks. Here are my five lessons about learning from home renovations.
Ask for help
Home renovations take me out of my comfort zone because I enjoy leaning into well-honed talents like writing, talking and managing big learning programs. Zero out of 10 friends or family members would describe me as “handy” around the house. And that’s okay, but in order to turn this home into a livable space I sought out advice from my dad, my father-in-law, a couple of contractor-friends, and some regular friends, too. It’s hard to admit to others (and yourself) that we’re not good – or in my case competent – at something, but my present experience has taught me that folks are not just willing to help, but are also kind and supportive with their advice.
With any piece of work it’s important to be prepared. For example, human beings like me who work in white collar professions will spend about four years of our lives in meetings, but 99% of meetings are terrible – more people need to read Kurt Heinrich’s articles about meetings or this one from Fast Company’s Camille Sweeney and Josh Gosfield. One of the things that I love about my team is that we have incredible intention when we meet and we get shit done during meetings because we are prepared for them. Applying the same logic to fixing a toilet in my new home, I considered advice from others and applied the learnings from several YouTube videos on the subject (I have a “home renos” channel). I also bought or borrowed the tools I needed for the job and planned how to use them so that I could get everything done in one attempt.
Try small, fail small
My new fireplace – specifically its Seinfeld-era tile – might very well be my new nemesis. So when my dad and I were taking off the faux-wood trim surrounding it we were very tempted to smash away the tile, too. As we investigated further, though, we recognized that doing so could’ve resulted in some pretty sizeable holes in the wall. And we’d have been no closer to having new tile. Similarly, our kitchen sink takes a long time to drain and probably requires some minor plumbing work, but I will go nowhere near the task because I know so little about such work that the risk is too large. Installing a dimmer-switch on a new light fixture, though, is something that I can handle. When you consider a skill that you want to learn – perhaps talking to strangers at conferences – think of small risks that you can take to learn new abilities, such as joining a conversation with a “wingman” or setting a goal to talk with one new person after your workshop. You will build your aptitude and, more importantly, your confidence when you make little mistakes and learn from them, as opposed to smashing a hole in your wall with no Plan B.
When you’re learning something new it takes time (for most of us, anyway). After watching a five-minute YouTube video about changing toilet seals I was confident that the task itself would take me, like, 10-minutes. Two hours and many wet towels later the job was done and the problem was solved, but it took a lot of time and a few re-dos to get it right. Whether you choose mindfulness, walking or another calm-inducing activity, taking your time to expertly complete a few tasks per day will serve you very well. Robin Sharma reinforces that great, creative leaders are monomaniacal about two or three things and focus on mastering them. Such dedication to a craft takes patience. I’ll never be as good at home renovations as I am at public speaking (and I’m okay with that), but knowing how to apply patience to my next presentation is a lesson that I learned from toilet-sealing that will serve me very well in the world of co-operative financial services!
Get shit done
A mentor once told me that the reason she loved home renovations is because she didn’t get a lot of things done in her day-to-day work. As a director of big, complex campus diversity initiatives I totally understand – it takes at least 16-months to get anything relatively important done in higher education. So she felt a great sense of accomplishment in completing a project over the weekend with her hands gripping a hammer instead of tickling a keyboard and getting “stakeholders” to “buy in”. Two weekends of completing tasks, which some (not me) would consider simple, I find myself reflecting on two things. First, how cool it feels to take something from start to finish in a few hours that makes a space more accessible and welcoming. Second, something that inspires me in my job is that our team gets high quality work done very quickly. This is a good thing, as no one will be hiring me as a home renovator anytime soon…