Good day, team.
This week’s challenge is about work ethic and being successful.
A few months ago, we started tearing down our 102 year old garage to convert it into my new office space. This is a dream I’ve had for awhile, but after meeting with an architect and engineer, I soon realized that the realities of turning such an old, crumbing structure into something suitable for my current day professional needs, was far more extensive and expensive then I imagined.
After I received my first bid from a contractor for this project, I pretty much decided that it wasn’t worth doing. Discovering that the cost could be almost twice as much as what I had expected was enough to talk me out of it, not to mention all the permits, notifications to neighbors, licensing, etc. that would be needed to even start the project.
After talking with my reasonable and steadfast husband who reminded me that we would have to do something about the garage since it was in such a bad state, I continued down the path of getting more bids in hopes that someone out there could do the project within our budget.
On my third try, we found a contractor named Gerry who came much closer to our original budget. More importantly, he had a way about him that gave me confidence that a quality job could actually get done for a reasonable price within an agreeable time period.
So what made Gerry different than the others? As we sat in our living room with him in our first meeting, I realized that Gerry had a way of approaching everything in the project as ‘doable’. The other contractors emphasized parts of the project as being ‘very hard to do’ or something that would take exceptional effort on their part (which only translated into more dollar signs to me), in contrast to Gerry who would say, ‘This will be tricky, but it’s very doable’. He gave me the hope that we could get past the tough parts.
Secondly, Gerry assured us from the beginning that he would try to approach the project as if he was doing this to his own house. He would look at every cost and try to get the best price possible. I had heard this in varying forms from the other contractors, but for some reason, I didn’t quite believe them, particularly after I saw their total cost estimate. I knew from everything I observed about Gerry – his old wristwatch, the beat up truck he drives, his faded U of O sweatshirt – that he loves to get the best for the lowest price. His philosophy reminded me of my mother-in-law who’s always had an uncanny way of getting something for nothing, the result of having grown up with very little and turning it into quite a lot.
As we began the project, I quickly saw Gerry’s work ethic and commitment. Although he lives 30 minutes in good traffic from my house, he showed up early each morning, ready and raring to go. It was still summer when he started tearing down the old garage, so he used some of his high school aged kids to help. They had a great time doing the destruction. Gerry knew that my neighbor was quite concerned with the project since a wall of our garage is only one foot from the wall of her garage. Each day, Gerry found a way to chat with my neighbor to assure her that he was doing everything possible to guard against any damage to her structure. Throughout each stage of the project, he continued to give me detailed information about what he was doing and why. He continued to ask me what I would prefer and gave me pricing information to help me make decisions about lumber, windows, doors, etc.
Most importantly, he worked from early morning until late afternoon, with only 30 to 45 minutes for lunch in his truck, to get the work done. And, he’s done most of it himself. As I’ve watched him pick up large sheets of plywood, shovel out huge amounts of dirt and gravel, install skylights, and re-do decking, I’m amazed at his energy and drive. The work that has been sub-contracted out has been equally inspiring to watch. All of his sub-contractors love working with him and have been working with him for, in some cases, 25 years. The concrete guy commented to me, ‘Yup, Gerry is reliable. He sticks to a schedule and is always there to give us what we need to do the job. And, most importantly, he pays us on time!”
During the course of the project, we had a mini-monsoon. For 3 days, torrents of rain fell on Portland. At one point, I looked out at the project from an upstairs window and it looked like a swimming pool. Throughout all 3 days, Gerry continued to work steadily as the water poured off the rim of his hat. Instead of seeing it as insurmountable, he took it as an opportunity to create a much better way to divert water around the house and away from the garage and porch. By the third day, he jubilantly reported to me that the water was gushing out of the new pipe he had installed – a sure sign that he had fixed an age old problem that the house had had for more than a century. Seeing his smiling face in the rain as he pointed to the new pipe, I realized what joy this guy gets from doing the work, even in the worst conditions.
Taking all this into account, I’ve learned some great lessons from Gerry about work ethic. Here are the high points:
1) Nothing is impossible – if you have the attitude that whatever the problems are, there is always a solution, you won’t get overwhelmed or give up. It’s all in how you see the problem – what to some is insurmountable, to others is an opportunity. Anything is ‘doable’.
2) Run it like you own it – if you personalize what you’re doing, people will see the ownership you’re taking. Putting yourself in the customers shoes makes a huge difference in seeing what’s most important to them. If this was your house, your business, your deal, what would you want to experience?
3) Show up and stay engaged – there’s a lot to be said for just showing up each day with consistency and commitment. Keeping yourself physically, intellectually and emotionally engaged throughout the project is a key to your success. Your level of engagement impacts the entire project and you’ll find that it’s often mirrored by everyone else involved.
4) Work hard – there is no replacement for hard work. When someone is paying you to do a job, they watch you. They take note when you’re there and when you’re not. They notice when you put in the extra bit of effort to accomplish something. They feel your level of enthusiasm and determination.
5) Stay cool and have fun – in the midst of all the work, a cool head and sense of humor goes a long ways. Something always goes wrong, and the ability to not overreact and use logic and good problem solving skills to make your way out of it, is worth a great deal. Plus, having a good sense of humor throughout the project is an added bonus. At one point during the monsoon, I saw Gerry slip in some mud and as he picked himself up off the ground, covered in mud and muck, he commented, “Well, the wife will have no doubt that I was playing in the dirt again today.”
This week, take some of Gerry’s work ethic and habits to heart. This one man embodies so many of the qualities I see in someone who is successful in their work. Maybe you already approach your work in the same way he does. But see if there’s something I’ve listed here that you’re not doing. In my case, I realized that having that ‘can do’ attitude sometimes eludes me. If I get overly analytical about something, I tend to focus on everything that can go wrong, get overwhelmed, and don’t even start the thing I’ve wanted to do. It almost happened to me with this project and it was only with my husband’s steady encouragement and Gerry’s ‘everything is doable’ attitude, that got me started.
Whatever it is, take a lesson from Gerry this week to help you, not just do the work, but to do it with commitment, reliability, and determination. You’ll impact everyone else around you and have a better time doing it!
Have a good week,
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