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Life lessons from a DIY project.

Please bear with me on this post. I promise you this is not meant as an excuse to show off my severely lacking skills when it comes to simple jobs around the home. This is meant as a way to show the reader how they may want to approach life or even how to change things when they're not going how they would want...

A couple of weeks ago I decided to start a bit of a project in my garden. There had been a square area of stone created some years previous but never actually put to any specific use. Anyone that saw it would comment that it seemed obvious to create a seating area of some sort. I always agreed but just what form it should take and how to go about it had always been the problem. So, eventually, the decision was made to use it as the base for a decking area.

On the face of it, it seemed quite straightforward. Unfortunately I have been caught out like that before when my deficiencies in simple DIY tasks have been exposed, sometimes almost comically. It almost seems like anything that CAN go wrong DOES go wrong, but when I reflect back the reasons were often down to my own carelessness or lack of attention.

So, undeterred, and with some sort of new found confidence in my ability, I measured up and ordered everything that would be needed. The fact that I calculated I would require 120 spindles for the railings and only needed 79 is not even worth mentioning. Better to be safe than sorry eh?...

I was under no pressure to complete the project and didn't start any aspect of it unless I was sure I knew what I was aiming to do and how to actually do it. My first task was to construct the wooden frame onto which the decking would be fixed. The important part of this was to ensure that whatever I produced was square. Everything else afterwards would be made much more complicated if this were not so. I spent the morning measuring, then measuring again before cutting anything. "Measure twice, cut once" is a philosophy I have ignored too many times in the past. I had diagrams with many numbers on and produced visual images in my mind of where each next piece of wood had to go and then double checking my ideas to make sure I was not making silly but obvious mistakes.

After several hours I had turned this...

Into this....

You'll notice that nothing is fixed in place and most of it has not even been cut to size. This was because I had so much expectation that I would do something wrong, I would not make a single cut or insert a single screw until I was as sure as I could possibly be that it was correct. I was using my past experiences and trying to learn by my mistakes. I wanted this to be right.

Eventually I reached this stage..

This base was sturdy, square and level. In fact, surprisingly so on all counts. This was the perfect base to start building on. Something I was aware of at this stage was complacency. Surely if you start with something that is sound, the rest will just fall nicely into place? Now all I had to do was put the decking boards on one at a time, followed by the hand rails and it's job done. To take this simplistic view would have been a big mistake. It would mean I was relying on the fact that every single decking board that I had delivered was also straight and true (they were not) and that every handrail, corner post and spindle was uniform in it's length and design (turns out they weren't either). Just because I had this sound base did not mean I could take anything for granted.

I started to cut the decking boards to size. I didn't assume that each one would just be the same length as the previous one that it would lay next to. I measured each one as I went, and sure enough I found differences. Admittedly we are talking millimetres here but these small individual discrepancies would have made a big difference in the final result if I ignored them.

Slowly but surely things started to take shape...

Not only did each board need to be the right length, but it had to be fixed the right distance from the one next to it. Some of the boards came slightly bowed or warped. This has to be expected when you're dealing with wooden products. But it meant that the parts I received had to be manipulated in some way before they fit just right into what I wanted it to be. Some were easy to adjust but others took more force to comply.

You'll notice that there are corner posts that had to be allowed for too so on some of the boards there had to be precise measurements taken to remove small sections so they fit just right. It's this sort of precision that really isn't my strong point but after but I took my time and the first cuts were, somehow, spot on. This gave me confidence when it came to the next cuts I had to make.

(Well done for making it this far. Please stick with me, I haven't forgotten the whole 'life lesson' point of this post - All will be revealed....)

So, after a few more hours, here's how things looked..

By this stage my confidence was growing. I knew that what lay ahead was not going to be easy, but I also believed that it could not be any tougher than what I had already accomplished. I'd come this far and in terms of time I was probably closer to the end than the beginning. (I was wrong in that assumption, by the way).

For the next stage I turned, not for the first time, to the unimaginably helpful resource called 'YouTube'. I had already been there for advice on the best gaps to keep between boards and how to fix corner posts securely, but now it was time to add handrails. I watched one particular video over and over until it was almost imprinted on my brain. It wouldn't matter how flat and level the base was or how sturdy and perfectly upright the corner posts were fixed in, if the handrails were wonky then that would be all that anyone saw. This could make or break the entire project.

After watching the instructional video it occurred to me that the way I would have done it was very different to how this video described. This would have been the time in the past where I would have looked at the video, decided it was a lot of messing about and I would be able to achieve the same result by doing it my own way. Then, ultimately, being proved wrong. But this time was different. I had already developed pride in what I had done so far and wanted to continue the theme of doing things that helped towards an acceptable end result.

After many hours of putting the video instructions into practice, we reached the point in the project that looked like this..

At this point all that had to be done was to paint the finished article. A simple job really but there were 7 sets of handrail sections and each one took the best part of an hour to do, so that was a full day before I got cracking on the floor and sides. Anyway, 2 more days later, here is the whole job finished and complete..

So, the point of this entire post..........

There could be many conclusions to be drawn from this episode, such as 'You can do anything if you put your mind to it', or 'have faith in yourself', but the lessons I learned go far deeper than that.

For starters, everything needs a solid foundation. Personally I believe that everyone is born with a solid foundation. It's not until life and the influence of others are introduced that the foundation changes. Sometimes it's made stronger but other times it is undermined in some way.

It's when you have those little cracks in the foundations that these discrepancies can be magnified if they go unchecked. Nobody's life runs super smoothly all of the time so there will always be the potential for cracks to appear. It's how these cracks are dealt with that impacts on the rest of your life.

Ignoring them rarely works out well but it's very easy to do, in the hope that things will work out alright. But when things don't get better, but instead gradually get worse over time, then it can reach a stage where it feels like it's gone too far to be improved or changed. It almost feels helpless.

This is where the similarities of my project really started to hit home when I compared it to life.

When you know you need something to change in your life it takes a lot of things to make it happen. Sitting back and hoping is rarely the answer. It takes a plan. A clear idea of what you want, what you need and what you want the outcome to look like. You cannot take anything for granted. People can let you down so you need to identify the people you can trust. Some parts of your life will need to be changed. Moulded to fit your vision. As you start making the positive changes, take heart from even the smallest victories and use them to give yourself confidence and self belief as you move forward. Try not to get disheartened. Realise it's a journey and admit to yourself that you are moving forward, even if it feels painfully slow sometimes. Look at where you were and how you have progressed. As long as you're moving forward you will eventually get there.

Here is the biggest one....

I decided right from the start that I would make sure I had the best tools for the job. Really good saw, drill, driver and all the correct screws and bolts as recommended. I was not going to get my preferred outcome by cobbling things together with inferior equipment. And this is the point...

If you want to do a great job, you need the right tools.

If you find you're struggling in life and need to make changes, you're going to need the right tools to accomplish your goals and build what it is you want.

You'll need things like commitment, dedication, desire, patience, belief and confidence, to name just a few. If I found I needed a particular tool and didn't have it then I would have found a way to get it. Buy it or borrow it.

If you feel that some of the tools you will need are lacking then you cannot be afraid to ask.

If you need to be supported in some way to help with your self belief and moving forward then you must be brave enough to ask for it.

To build something as beautiful as a happy life then you don't want to settle for half measures and botch it all together. You want to build something to be proud of. Something strong that will be worthy of the effort you have put in and if that means borrowing some tools or even some manual help along the way then that's just fine. There is no shame in asking for assistance when you can't do something yourself.

I truly believe that everyone has it in them to build whatever life they want. All they need to do is decide to start.....

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