Many men begin learning these skills from their fathers. My dad was not one of the types who was constantly under the hood of a car or had a saw in his hand. Even if he wasn’t too busy working I don’t think he would have spent his free time that way. Consequently, I didn’t grow up learning to use power tools or wrenches or how to change the brakes on my car or fix a leaky faucet.
Maybe that’s why now I get such a thrill out of even minor accomplishments in that vein.
On Friday, I successfully changed the car battery in my girlfriend’s Jeep. I took out the old one, put the new one in, tightened it down without electrocuting myself and started the car. As the engine turned over, I felt a jolt of accomplishment. I was ready to tear the engine apart and put it all back together.
It’s a small thing, for sure, but for someone like me it’s a big deal. The level of skill needed to perform this task was very low. The real accomplishment was overcoming the fear of failure.
My days as a project whiz started at age 24 when I bought my first house. It was 40 years old and had been occupied most of that time by two people who smoked inside. To get rid of the smell, every inch of carpet and all the curtains had to be removed. That meant all the flooring had to be replaced. I decided to do all 1,500 square feet in wood laminate, which I would install myself. When I say “myself,” I mean go to Home Depot when my father-in-law, who brought all the knowledge and skills to the project, needed something. After a short time, though, I caught on and was measuring and sawing and hammering away. Installing the floor was more or less idiot-proof, but cutting and laying the trim was tricky. I did it myself and the result was a mix of corner styles that were all different and none of which were perfect. The entire time I lived in that house I’d admire the floor like a proud papa, except for those goofy-looking corners.
That house required a lot of work and I learned a lot in the process of fixing it and watching others fix what I could not. Since then necessity has taught me a few more useful skills around the house and in the garage. The biggest thing I have learned though is not to be afraid of what I don’t know and ask to for help. This applies to everything from changing my own oil to building shelves to running a newspaper. Handling personnel and juggling multiple tasks have presented unique challenges that I am still figuring out. Just as with my floor and my car, I am relying on the advice of others to help me find my way.
The state’s legislators could benefit from this process, too. How many of them have had to deal with the massive challenges that lie ahead of them starting Monday? Even those who have “been there, done that” could benefit from talking to former leaders who have had to combat massive governmental budget crises or even reading history books about similar situations. Unless the state’s leaders want to be like me and have a solution with ugly corners, they should seek advice before proceeding. A seemingly perfect project — be it fixing a floor or fixing a state — can be ruined by ignoring the little details.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, the Jeep needs more windshield washer fluid. I’ll get my blowtorch.
Nathan Orme is the editor of the Sparks Tribune. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.