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I’ve broken a few shovels in my day.
Have you ever dug a hole on the beach? I used to dig a lot of them — for work, not for fun. If you’ve ever wondered how professional volleyball courts pop up on a beach one day and are gone tomorrow, it has a lot to do with digging holes. Every piece of equipment has to be secured with anchors into sand. The anchors have to be deep enough to withstand the tension from support posts, and in those days it meant digging up to 30 four-foot deep holes, 16 inches in diameter.
It wasn’t hard work, but it was tiring. Around hole number ten I would start to get lazy — no doubt thinking about lunch — and I’d start cutting corners. There aren’t that many corners to cut when digging a hole on the beach, but the deeper you get the wetter the sand is, and the heaver the scoop. The temptation is to stop moving around the hole and to pry from the side you’re standing on. And sometimes — a few times, in fact — that meant all the energy that 19-year-old (finish-this-darn-hole-fast-so-I-can-go-eat ) Vince could muster fell on the fulcrum of the wooden handle, and snap!
“Frank, I gone done it again,” I’d tell my site supervisor.
“[Expletive], Vince,” Frank would say, then he’d laugh, shake his head, and go tell the crew chief that somebody needed to go find the nearest Home Depot to buy a new shovel.
“[Expletive], Vince,” the crew chief would say.
I’ve come to experience this phenonemon time and time again. Not the breaking of shovels, but the unintended consequence from going too fast, too hard, and simply not paying attention to detail. Or, not taking the time to get the right tool, not thinking through a problem before you act, failing to ask others’ advice, being unteachable … generally speaking, taking short cuts.
Shortcuts aren’t always bad. We have a shortcut near our house that lets us bypass the highway — which in the summer in Alaska, means bypassing miles of routine construction traffic. But the totality of my experience has led me to conclude that more often than not, shortcuts cause more harm than they’re worth. There is an order of operations that is usually designed for a reason. When building a house, it’s Foundation -> Framing -> Plumbing -> Electrical -> Insulation, etc. … because wires can go around pipes but pipes can’t go around wires. Not without causing someone a headache anyway. “[Expletive] electrical box,” said the appliance installer.
I didn’t always appreciate the principle of taking your time to do something right, but I do now. After 42 years of broken shovels, torque wrenches, chainsaw engines, damaged door trim, poorly installed bathtub diverters — had to patch a huge hole in the downstairs ceiling sheetrock after that one — caulk jobs, stripped drain plugs, and so on, I’ve finally learned to take my time and do it right. And to do first things first, like texturing that wall before you paint it or grabbing the wipes before you remove the diaper.
This applies to relationships, too, by the way. Have you ever come across something online that got your hackles up? Your first instinct is to blast away a rebuttal, and sometimes in doing so you offend. Then it gets ugly, and you’re forced to either remove yourself, apologize, or double down on your position.
I spent 20 minutes the other night with a stranger on Facebook explaining from purely a football perspective how bad of a quarterback Colin Kaepernick was the last time he was a starter. Why? If I’d warranted the topic was worth my time — which it probably wasn’t — then the better course would have been to take some time, ask some questions, and listen to the other person’s point of view. Do that, and they might listen when you offer up a conclusion of your own. And when two positions are in conflict, often one is right and the other is wrong. There is such a thing as truth. We could use a little more of it. But getting to the point where people will listen is hard. It takes time. Taking a short cut and blasting them away is much easier. But when we do that, we often break that shovel.
A common phrase used in our home is “slow down.” Whether it’s a kid trying to figure out the order of operations on a long division problem, another unloading the dishwasher, a dad trying to edit a chapter, a teenager trying to make a life for himself, we say “slow down,” because even though we value expediency, we appreciate quality even more. It’s worth the wait.
When we take our time to get it right the results are a thousand times more impressive, and they last. I’m still learning this with new things I attempt, because I tend to like tackling new things, and often screw up a few times before getting good at it. My first tamales were meh, but they’re getting better. The secret: slow cooking. I’ve learned the value of taking my time and doing it right. It comes from experience, and tiring of having to swallow my pride and repeat, “Frank, I gone done it again.”