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November 12, 2008

One of my biggest learning experiences, one of the lessons I remember best from pretty much all time was from a former crack addict that I worked with painting houses.

Back in the day while I was working for Powers Restoration, one of the two gents I worked with pulled me asides while I was working on something to give me a very simple lesson.  As he so succinctly put it: “You’re just being paid to put paint on the wall, bro…”  By this, though, he was referring to my going overboard on pulling loose paint off the wall in prep, and economising on paint, using small lots to paint each time.

See, as he so simply put it, we’re being paid to put paint on, and make sure it stays there – and sometimes that’s all that’s needed.  What I was pulling off the wall wasn’t weakened, didn’t need doing, and was completely unnessessary.  Sure, it meant we’d have done an overall better job once we were done, but that wasn’t what we’d been asked to do, it wouldn’t be noticed, and the quality difference wouldn’t be worth the delay.  It wasn’t what we’d been hired by the client or by Powers Restoration to do for the house, they just wanted it repainted, and Kenny just wanted it done so we could get paid and move on.

This is a little lesson that’s come back to me frequently, actually – I have a tendancy to get caught up in the details, or in economising, and then in the course of that, lose the inital job.  I wasn’t hired to prep the walls, or sand them – I’d been hired to paint them, and prep was just a small necessity of doing it right.  Or at other jobs since.  Sometimes it’s possible to clean too thouroughly.  I see the grill at work as an example of this; I’d love to blow an afternoon with a few sharp tools completely descaling the grill, it’s got a lot of sediment built up and it all needs to be chipped and brushed and scraped off.  But, were I to do that, I’d throw off my entire close, likely end up neglecting customers, and generally fuck shit up.  I’ll do the grill, same as ever, and every now and again, remind myself “No, Earthman, you’re just here to put paint on – just do the job and move on, no one will notice or appreciate the extra mile, and it’ll just cost you in the end.”

It’s a phrase I’ve used while training people, too.  Sometimes that analogy is the best way of conveying the fact that a job doesn’t need to be utterly perfect – sometime it just needs to be done and left alone from there.  There’s likely another job that needs doing just as much, and you should get on and do it.

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