All Hands On Deck

We built a deck at my son’s house last week. Of course, we chose the hottest week of the year so far to be outside lifting 2×10’s into place and running an overheating screw gun. It was brutal, but it was also fun and very satisfying. You will have to take my word for it that we went into the project with a very detailed and exact set of plans. We had a list of materials including the aisle and bin where they would be found at the hardware store. The design was typical for an engineer creating something where performance isn’t impacted by weight; it was, should we say, over-engineered.

We started at daybreak on a hot Saturday with the temp projected to climb to 105°. We had purchased and delivered the bulk of the materials a few days before, so after unloading tools and setting up, we got started in earnest. After building the double stringers, it was time to dig the holes for the support posts. It was here that our plans started to unravel. The placement of the posts according to the design was impossible due to the foundation being overpoured and encroaching on our hole placement. We solved that problem with extra pieces of board attached to the stringer to allow the post to be offset.

So began a week’s worth of encountering issues and contriving variances. The house is 70 years old, so nothing is square or plumb or straight. The quality of dimensional lumber has gotten progressively worse over the years I’ve been buying it, so very few boards are straight. We worked to force each board into approximately the place it was intended and adjusted for the differences as we went.

Anyone who has ever planned anything knows that reality is always different from the plan. The plan is still vitally important. We need to know where we want to be or what we want to create, but we must be willing to adjust how we get there or how we create it. To be flexible, we need clear vision, a willingness to adapt to rather than fight the conditions, and great team members.

We started with a complete and detailed plan for the deck, and by the end, we had built the deck functionally like we planned but not exactly. Knowing what we wanted to create gave us clarity when we had to change plans to know how to shift yet stay on course. Without a clear understanding of where we are going or what we want to accomplish, every disruption becomes a possible course change.

As an engineer and an obsessive person, it is very hard for me to let things go. I really want things to be exact, in line, straight, perfect. Building a deck onto a 70-year-old house is going to result in some things not being perfect. That’s true about everything we will do in life. The trick is to understand which things are OK to let go of and which ones we should fight for. In life, it is important to fight for our core values and make sure we respect each other. Most other things can be adjusted.

I could not have built that deck by myself. There were many times it took two (or more) people to get the next thing done. It was also important to have another set of eyes and another brain thinking about the variances. I was lucky to have a couple of my sons working with me as well as my wife. More than once, someone else noticed how we could adapt or how we had done something not to plan. We are always better in community.

I like having a tangible and finite physical project to accomplish occasionally. It helps me remember that life is not complicated (though it can be complex). All I really need is to understand where I am going and what I want to accomplish and be willing to adapt, even if it means the lines aren’t all straight. Most importantly though, I need to be surrounded by people who I trust and who trust me. Community is the most critical part of being adaptable. Having the right hands on deck makes all the difference, and it is The Kimray Way.