I’ll add some final thoughts after the chapter, exactly as it appears in the book.
And the Wall Came Tumbling Down
Last week, I helped my Dad put a hole in a wall of the house where I grew up. Dad is remodeling the house and needed a new entry from the partial basement into the crawl space. This is not a new home. We don’t know for sure, but it is safe to say that the wall we were going to work on is at least 100 years old.
Dad had been thinking about how to do this job for some time and decided to rent a machine that cuts concrete, using a diamond tipped blade. He felt that with that machine, and some work with a sledgehammer, in a couple of hours we could complete the task. So, on my visit, we rented the saw and began the job.
The saw is designed to cut up to about four inches deep. The wall is more like seven inches thick. The saw is heavy and probably would work marvelously on a floor. We were using it to cut into a wall, above our heads. The saw works great on concrete, but not so well on rock. We quickly learned that the wall had some large rocks in it – it wasn’t just concrete as it appears from the surface.
All in all, I hope this description is letting you see that after a couple of minutes, we realized this was going to be a much tougher job than we had hoped or imagined.
After some initial cuts with the saw, and some pounding with a sledge hammer, we went for some more tools. Specifically, we picked up a small hammer and a chisel. We took turns using the saw, using the sledgehammer, and then chipping away at the concrete around the now-revealed large stones with the small hammer and chisel.
We developed a strategy – switch the tools based on what you saw. Stay focused on one part of the wall at a time. All the while reminding ourselves that, once we broke through, our job would be easier.
Our observations were right. Once we got a small breakthrough, the hole was quickly completed. In fact, the part of the wall that had been our biggest obstacle, the large and very hard stones, became our ally. Once one of those was out, the concrete around them moved easily, which loosed the next large stone, until the hole was complete.
I thought about our task as I drove home from my Dad’s – the process and the lessons that were revealed. I learned about much more than just about breaking through concrete. I learned some keys to overcoming any obstacles in our lives – about breaking through the walls between where we are and our goals.
Have a plan. Dad had thought about the project and had a plan for completing the job. We all need to have plans for achieving our goals – including breaking through the walls.
Have help. Part of Dad’s plan was to have someone else there. The saw was heavy, and it was important that someone else was around. Having two people allowed us to spell each other, and make all the effort at the wall come with full strength. It is just as true with our goals. We will be more successful, more quickly, when we collaborate and are willing to ask for help, guidance and support.
Have a wide array of tools. Each of the tools we ended up using was helpful. The small hammer could reach places in a more targeted way than the sledge. The chisel helped us focus even more than the saw. The saw, while it wasn’t as helpful as we had hoped, did provide a valuable part of the solution. We need to collect a wide tool kit to help us get through our obstacles as well – the bigger our kits of ideas and skills and experiences, the more successful we will be.
The obstacle can be tougher than we think. Once we saw how hard the saw was to handle, and once we saw the big rocks, we realized the job might be tougher than we originally thought. When we face an obstacle, we sometimes think it will come down easily. When it doesn’t, we can get discouraged. Just remember, that the discouragement is a temporary inconvenience. Get past it and keep working.
The wall seemed immovable. Do your obstacles ever feel immovable? Have you noticed that sometimes you keep working and working on something and never seem to make any progress? There were many swings of the sledgehammer that didn’t seem to do a thing. It took a lot of effort for very little – apparent – progress at the start. In the end though, it is easy to see that every blow against the wall played a part in our success. The same is true for our other walls.
The big rocks made it harder. The big rocks were hard! The saw didn’t cut them well; they didn’t give or move with a swing of the sledge; and the chisel was useless against them. We all will encounter the big rocks in our walls. That’s life. Move on. We worked on the softer concrete around them, rather than focusing on them directly. We often can do the same thing as we move through whatever obstacles we face.
The big rocks made it easier. Paradoxically, in the end, the big rocks actually made our job easier. Why? Because once we had one of them out, other pieces, including other big rocks, came out easier than if it had been a wall of “just concrete.” For us it is often true that the biggest challenge ends up being a blessing to us in the end, even while we might be cursing it at the time! (I won’t comment on whether there was any cursing in the basement that day).
Once you have a small breakthrough you are almost there! Lots of effort for little progress, then with a relatively small breakthrough, you are almost done. I’ve read that something like 90% of the energy used by the space shuttle for its entire mission is used in the first few seconds after liftoff. Invest the effort up front, and when the wall starts to come down, get ready, you’re almost there!
Maybe you’ve never swung a hammer to bust a piece of concrete. It doesn’t matter because I know you have faced at least one obstacle between you and your goals. I am also sure you will face another. I hope the lessons I learned can be valuable to you the next time you are staring at your concrete wall.
For us it is often true that the biggest challenge ends up being a blessing to us in the end, even while we might be cursing it at the time!
The lessons above were meant for everyone, but as leaders they apply to us as well. your leadership activity for today is to re-read the lessons with your leadership hat on, and decide on one action you can take today to lead more effectively.