Things I Learned Building a Fence

About 18 years ago, I had the opportunity to move out of California and create a better life for myself and my family.  We chose a rural area outside Austin, Texas, and have been really happy with our choice.  We moved from a 1200 sq ft zero-lot-line condo to a 2700 sq ft custom home on 3.2 acres in a pine forest.  After wed been there about a year, we realized we needed to fence in a place for dogs, etc.  So we mapped out an area that ended up being about 900 linear feet of fence line.  I haven’t done the math to see how much we fenced in, but I’d say probably an acre and a half at least.

I had never built a fence before.  We got some quotes and choked at the $20k price to fence in our yard.  I did some research and found that the materials would be $5k.  With the help of the Internet, I researched how to build a chain-link fence myself.  It was a great life lesson for me as well as my two boys.  I moved to the country to give them these types of experiences.

Life isn’t difficult

Life isn’t difficult, it’s all about hard work.  The fence was the same way.  The techniques used to build the fence were simple but physically demanding.  Since we were up against a self-imposed timeline, we also were tackling the fence in August, one of the hottest months in Texas.  First, we had to map out the line the fence would follow, trying to get it as straight as possible.  I didn’t want to clear any trees, so we chose a path that allowed for no trees to be removed.  Next, we sunk the corner posts, which are a little more stout than a standard post.  Then, we ran a string between the corner posts, low to the ground so we could map out where you’ll dig the post holes every ten feet.  Even with a post-hole digger on the back of my tractor, it took an entire weekend to dig all 90 post holes.

The harder part was mixing, carrying, and pouring concrete for 90 holes.  The next most strenuous task was hanging the chain-link and meshing long sections together.  Again, like most things, easy once you get the hang of it.

We did the entire job ourselves, and I’ve always been proud that I was able to build the fence myself.  

Others have experiences we haven’t had yet

The other day, in the middle of a presentation from a very senior executive, I realized that life was nothing more than building fences.  I watched the senior exec present and realized he’s just human, there’s no reason for me to be intimidated by him like I had been up until that point.

He’s already built a few fences, I just need to learn how to do the basics.

Everyone, as it turns out, is just doing their best.  Most of us are winging it and trying to build things as we go, learning each and every day.  Those who haven’t had our experiences yet, stand and look in awe at our “accomplishments.”  But they aren’t impressive when you’ve been the one who did them.  Because they weren’t difficult to do, like the fence building, they were just hard work.  They took planning, dedication, thought and follow through, that’s all.  Building that fence didn’t require intelligence.  I had the tools all along to be successful.

I’ve been reminded of this phenomenon over and over again in my career.  Things seem more difficult when you haven’t done them yet.  When we see someone who’s already been through the struggle, we’re impressed.  We’re at the beginning of the struggle, the steepest part of the learning curve.  We’re like a novice climber looking at the base of the mountain looking up thinking, “I can’t do this.”  It’s only intimidating because we haven’t done it before.

Hard work is king

The longer I live, the more I realize the fundamental truth to all things – it’s not all that difficult, most of the gains are done through hard work.  Do the work, show up every day, and you will achieve your goals.

Most people won’t do this, that’s the key factor that makes it so unbelievably simple.  I remember when I was in college, just going to class every day put me in the 1%. That was it, I just had to show up every day to get an advantage.  Sure, I had to do the work, but by showing up, I had a leg up always over those who didn’t.

My career has been the same way.  Show up, do the work, be professional, rinse, repeat.  It’s so simple they put those instructions on shampoo bottles.

I’m betting that writing is the same way.  I’m hoping that it is.  I write every day to put in the work.  I hope I’m learning and getting better, that part is a little more difficult to quantify.  But, like the fence, at the end of the day, week, month and year, I’ll have something solid to show for my work.  Anyone else who looks at the work will think, “Wow, that’s a lot of work.”  And it is if taken in all at once.  But looking at it as a continuous build up, an everyday task, it’s not overwhelming at all.  It was all built one word at a time, one day at a time, using the power of time as an advantage. It’s not difficult to do.  It just required good old-fashioned hard work and dedication.

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Photo by Martin Fennema on Unsplash

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