So, I was riding the short bus to school.
Ten chummy guys from the building trades class at Sylvan Hills High School rode on that short bus each day to a house that we were building, step by step, for a grade. *Except when our teacher took us out to eat or play in Alladin’s Castle arcade in the mall.
One day, I volunteered to build some pantry shelving. Our teacher, Graham, yelled into the house, “When everyone’s finished with their work, we’ll call it a day, and you can go make trouble somewhere else!” Graham was a hippie who stood 6’3″ with a bushy grey beard, and always wore sunglasses, even inside on cloudy days.
Making shelves the right way is simple. Measure the wall height, mark where the shelves go, use a level to draw a line between two points, then hang the shelves one at a time. Check your work as you go.
That’s not how 17-year-old Jeff hung shelves. I wanted my work done fast so I could get out of school early. I pre-cut all the boards, then measured up from the floor instead of using the level and planned to put every shelf on the wall right after.
Every board was 1/8′ too short. I didn’t account for the width of the blade on the saw.
“Do it over,” Graham said as he leaned against the door frame behind me.
I re-cut the boards, installed the hangers, and put all of the shelves up.
Now, all of the correct-length shelves sloped down to the left.
“Do it over.”
Highschool kids built this house. Of course, I shouldn’t count on the floor being level.
“Do it over.”
“Do it over.”
On my 4th try, I finally received the “Looks good” from graham and headed outside to receive my heckling from the crew that I held back from leaving early for the day, but no one was on the bus.
I was the first one done. Graham was leaning on the side of the house, telling other kids to “Do it over. Shit, Blake, it only took Jucha four tries, and he can’t even spell his name right.”
This is what Graham did all day. He’d walk around the house, be patient with kids, and tell them, “Do it over” again and again.
When Graham told me, “do it over again.” What he meant was, “do it right.” That takes doing things wrong a few times, and boy, did I get things wrong.
I figured that I was naturally bad at building things.
I didn’t follow the correct steps.
I didn’t ask for help.
I got things wrong, a lot, and had to do them over again.
On top of that, I had bad grades, bad friends, and was going nowhere after highschool. I thought I was a natural at messing up.
But I got that wrong too.
Graham put me in the Skills USA competition to represent him and the whole school. He gave me the hard jobs that couldn’t be done wrong “because a family will live here one day.”
In my senior year, Graham wrote a letter recommending me, a “young man with outstanding work ethic” for not only a scholarship but a full-ride to my first two years in school. He is the only reason a kid like me got into college. He was a big reason why I believed I could be good at anything.
Back to those shelves.
We know the right way takes time, and work, and learning, but we fool ourselves into thinking the cheaper or faster way will pull through this time.
All it takes is a little aspiration to buy a gym membership, but it takes inspiration to make damn sure we go three times every week and ask for help with eating good food.
We try diet after diet to get the body we want, but all of them come with the grain of truth that regular exercise and reduction of calories will “amplify the results.”
We never have the time or money to do it the right way, but always have the time and money to the wrong way over again.
Finding the right way doesn’t usually happen on the first try. It takes repeating the wrong way over and over again until you’re mad or frustrated enough to see that the right way was the faster and cheaper way all along.
Why did he write the letter?
“No one is smart. Everyone’s like that. Einstein was stupid like you, Jucha; he just stuck with problems longer than everyone else.”
What a wise old hippie.