Home Work: Lessons from the Field

building a fenceThe messiest part of change is not the beginning or the end, but the middle, when you are knee deep in a project that has gone a little sideways and the only way through it is through it. There may be a lot of challenges, but the good news is that there is always a solution to each and every one.

This is where I found myself last week when I began the latest episode in my “home work” — a landscaping project. Working as my own contractor, I researched companies who could build the fence I wanted. I found one I liked, hired them and then waited for the start date. Apparently, they had their own start date in mind. One day I pulled up to the house, and there they were, men digging holes … in all the wrong places.

At least no concrete had been poured and the issue was easily corrected. But the project went on like that. There were a lot of miscommunications between the owner and his workers that I was able to catch luckily because I just happened to live in the work site.

But what was really going on? It was clear this was a successful company yet their success had become a challenge to them. The company was overextended. Instead of being proactive and controlling the projects, the owner was reacting and the projects were controlling him.

Of course, we’re just talking about a fence, and everything is very fixable. But the damage to a first impression is hard to repair. When it’s your name on the door, as it is for my company and perhaps yours too. I am grateful for this fence company for affirming that for me.

But in this case, there was extra credit home work for me … 5 lessons in fact … on how to work through large projects.

building a fence

1. Just Begin

It will be messy. It will be time-consuming. You will have doubts along the way. But if you never start, you will never make those important changes that you and your business need to grow.

You probably already know what you want to, or have to, do but have been putting it off. I get it! It took me forever to start this landscaping project. At some point, all my research was done, the funds were in place, it was time to begin.

2. Trust That There is Always a Solution

While nothing is perfect, the direction is clear – forward. Problem solving is not glamorous. Solutions are often mundane. This is the messy part. Set attainable goals, get it done and move on.  One very good way to do this is to break it down into more manageable parts.  For me, the fence is only the first part of the landscaping. Smaller chunks, smaller decisions, easier fixes (ie the holes that were totally in the wrong place). Once the fence was in, old plants were cleared creating a blank canvas for new landscaping to come. Ahhhh.

building a fence

 3. You Only Need to See Three Feet Ahead

The best advice I’ve heard on getting through a large project was in a book about writing. In Bird by Bird, writer Anne Lamott muses on how writing a novel is like driving at night. You can see only as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.

“You don’t have to see where you’re going, you don’t have to see your destination or everything you will pass along the way. You just have to see two or three feet ahead of you.”

4. Take a Breath

The owners of the fence company were driven by passion, but they had gone beyond their headlights and were just driving in the dark. The solution was simple … they just had to slow down their pace and get back behind the light where they could see the road. That would be the time to put systems in place that would support further growth. A good lesson for all creative entrepreneurs.


building a fence5. Love the Process

Once you are in it, don’t rush it. Every nail hole, every plank, every bit of stain all goes into the final product. Thank goodness my yard is not one of those reality shows where I need to get it done in a weekend for the sake of a bit of drama. There’s drama enough in any project. Take your time, get it  right the first time. You will love the journey and the destination.

PS While there is more to come on this project, I’m taking a break from my “home work” and going out to play!

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