Finding balance in a chaotic world

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December 2017
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The Lesson of the Fence

As you can imagine, it gets pretty windy in Oklahoma, especially during the spring. There are tornadoes, of course, but we also have days of very strong straight line winds and these often do as much damage, if not more, than the tornadoes do. I remember one year, the straight line winds smashed the windows of cars inside a parking garage at a local mall. I couldn’t imagine coming out and seeing all that broken glass around your car, talk about stressful. Well one day we had strong straight line winds and as I was in the kitchen, I heard a loud crack in the back yard. Since we don’t have any trees there, I thought nothing of it. I figured a limb fell off one of the trees in my neighbor’s yard. Turns out, I was wrong.


When I woke up the next day, I happened to look in the back yard and I noticed about 25 feet of our privacy fence had blown over. The winds were so strong that they snapped three posts and the whole fence fell into our neighbor’s yard. These particular neighbors were Vietnamese and did not speak English very well, although their children did, so we communicated through them. It was not very much fence and it was technically ours so I said I’d take care of everything.


The first task was to remove the old fence. The fence itself had not really aged all that well and the fall broke it up into sections. I pulled those into my yard and broke it down into easily moved chunks. Step one complete. Next I had to pull the concrete out of the ground where the posts were. That was a massive chore and I was glad that I only had to do it three times. I learned a lot about leverage during that task.


So with the removal complete, it was time to build the new fence. After consulting with my father, I headed off to the hardware store and picked up posts, slats, 2x4s, nails, and concrete. Now let me pause by saying before this the largest home improvement project I had undergone was painting the wall in the house. The theory of fence building is simple but truthfully, I was out of my skill range on this project. So the first thing to do was to put up the posts and pour the concrete. Well when I took the posts out, I widened all of the holes so I could roll them out. The area around the posts had washed away over the years anyway (contributing to the posts rotting and breaking) so there just was not much there to work with. I put the posts in the holes and applied the concrete. I let it set for a couple of days and then came back to put up the 2x4s and slats.


The 2x4s were easy and I knew to put space between the slats so they could swell if necessary. All of this went fairly well, although the fence seemed a little wobbly. I figured when I put it all together, that would take care of itself. So I finish a whole 8 foot section. I then go into my neighbor’s yard to see how it looked on their end and noticed lots of point nail ends sticking out, the perfect height for someone to run into and puncture themselves. Obviously, the nails I bought were too long. So I nailed down all the points to make it safer. I also bought the right size of nails.


I finished the other two sections and walked away from the project, my fence repaired. The next day, I noticed it was leaning. I went to look at what the deal was and saw that one of the posts I had put in just wobbled a lot. The hole was shallow and there was not much concrete there. So I got another bag of concrete, added it to the hole and walked away. A few days later it still wobbled. I bought more concrete and tried to build up the dirt better. Still wobbly. It got so bad, that my neighbors had to prop the fence up with a post to keep if from falling into their side. Every time I looked out at the fence I felt stress. It was a monument to my failure. This wobbly twenty-five feet of wood mocked me. I mean, this is a simple project and my father is super-handyman who can build anything. I should be able to do this, but I couldn’t.


I had my one and only conversation directly with my neighbor one day while I was trying to fix the post. He pointed to the concrete I had mixed up and said “Here,” and pointed to the whole I dug. After I poured it in, he said “More.” I poured more in and he said “more” again. I had run out of bags of concrete so I tried to tell him I’d go get some more, but I don’t know if he understood me. I realized though from him that it would take a lot more concrete than I thought it would to set the post.


This worked better, but the fence still was not as sturdy as it should be and my stress level increased. It got to the point that if I even looked in the direction of the backyard I felt tension in my chest. I fretted about the fence and hated to go into the backyard for anything. Every time I mowed back there the fence stood there mocking me.


Finally a solution forced itself on me. Another gust of wind took that part of my fence down again. This gust was much lighter than the previous one, but there was all my hard work lying on the ground once again. I collected the pieces and looked at the condition of the rest of the fence around me. I decided that it was time to call the professionals in and replace the whole thing. About one week later I had a brand new fence, built quickly and, most importantly, sturdy.


I learned quite a bit from the saga of the fence. I now understand how to build a sturdy fence, for one thing, and how much concrete is required. But the real thing I learned was that I caused myself a lot of unnecessary stress because I refused to take action on the problem. My wobbly fence stood for about three months before falling down again. For three months I felt a twinge in my chest every time I looked out there. My fear of failure kept me from acknowledging that I needed help. If I called the fence builders it would say that I failed.


You know what, though? So what? Sure I built a crappy fence and spent about $200 doing it, but in that failure, I actually learned a lot about building a fence. I actually lowered the quality of my life for three months because I refuse to admit I failed and do something about it. When the professional fence builders came in, the problem went away, along with my stress about it. By refusing to take action I prolonged my suffering. If the wind hadn’t blown it down a second time, I might still be worried about it.


So that is the lesson for today: take action. You will return to balance much quicker by taking action than you will by procrastinating and worrying.