I was never a big fan of school.
I was always the kid with “lots of potential.” My test scores were excellent, but my attendance was low. I do not like people telling me what to do.
School is important, I had many teachers who had huge impacts on me. Out of all the teachers I have ever had, I learned my most valuable lessons from a giant hard nosed carpenter named Mike.
Mike looked exactly like you would expect. He was tall and burly. He wore flannel shirts and had giant bear hands. He was made of iron. He never complained, he always showed up and he was always reliable. He had the blue collar mentality that many men and women have in the industrial cities and towns of the north east.
I worked for Mike for three years. He ran a small crew, 4 of us in total. Mike, Anthony, Cassy (Mike’s daughter) and myself. The 4 of us built all types of stuff from the ground up. We’ve turned empty lots of land into big beautiful houses with our bare hands. It was an amazing experience in my life.
I still think about Mike a lot. I am by no means a master carpenter, and I would mess up all the time. But after the three years I learned a ton of lessons from Mike. He was a great teacher.
Here are the ones that I remember most.
1 – Your Word Means Something
Mike would go fishing every weekend. We were working a job when a school burned down. We were on a deadline because the school had to be open in time for the students to return. Mike asked if I would come in on a Saturday and spackle a wall so that it would be dry on Monday for us to sand. I agreed to work.
I did go into work, but 4 hours in I left.
I had practice with a band I was playing with and I over-committed. I told Mike I would get the work done knowing full well that I had band practice that day. I said I would do it and it didn’t get done.
I explained to Mike why only half of the work was done on Monday. He was pissed. Mike wasn’t the type to scream and yell, he had a way of speaking where you always listened to him. All he said to me was that “your word means something. You need to learn what that means.”
What Mike was teaching me is that if you say you will do something, then you must do it. Also, if you can not do something, then don’t say that you can. It is okay to say no. It is your word and you must protect and respect your word. People depend on your word.
I get it now.
2 – You Need To Get Shit Done
It was January. It was freezing cold. Anthony and I were roofing a townhouse in a small town called Ambler.
Mike left for a few hours. He told Anthony and I what we had to get done. When he came back we were a little bit behind.
The reason we were behind was because we spent an hour developing a pulley system that would make it easier for us to get the shingles up on the roof. Shingles are heavy and walking up a ladder with shingles over your shoulder can be scary. Anthony and I thought that if we use our minds, we could make it easier on ourselves. Mike came back and we were very excited to show him the pully system we built. When he climbed on the roof and saw how far along we were he said
“what the fuck is this?”
Sometimes, it pays to make a plan that will save time in the future. In this case, there is no doubt that if we just sucked it up we could have gotten all those shingles on the roof in 20 or 30 minutes.
Sometimes people spend more time planning to work than actually working.
Mike was very smart and he was a master at his craft. He was all about taking his time and doing things right, but he was about getting shit done in the most efficient way possible. That’s it.
Mike never went with what was easy, he always went with what was right. Mike was about getting shit done. I’ll never forget him saying that to me.
3 – Measure Ten Times, Cut Once
This is a common saying among carpenters and contractors. The idea is that when you are cutting a board you need to make sure your measurement is correct before you make the cut. The saying usually goes “measure twice cut once.”
Mike took this one step further. Anytime I would mess up a cut this is what would happen.
First I would try to pretend like it didn’t happen and sneak over to the wood pile and get another board. I don’t know how but Mike always caught me. He always knew what I did wrong without even asking me.
I would avoid eye contact and like clockwork he would belt out
“MEASURE TEN TIMES TIM!”
I swear I can still remember exactly how it sounded when he would yell that. He would always yell it loud enough for everyone to hear, as a little reminder to them to do the same. Usually at this point he would throw something at me.
Here’s the point. If you add up all the time it takes to measure every cut ten times, it would still be less than the time I would have wasted by messing up cuts.
Yes, every time I made a mistake it would cost money in materials. But really what it would cost is time. Time is the most valuable resource of all.
Mike would rather go slow and get everything right the first time. The only time I would ever see Mike flip out was when we realized we messed up and had to tear down work we had already done to fix it.
The reality is, we only get one shot at many things in life. One cut. One chance to get it right. What determines the success is the time and preparation we put into that cut.
I get it now! I really really do!
Measure ten fucking times if you have to. You only get one cut.
I haven’t spoken to or seen Mike in years. I would bet a million dollars that he is still waking up early, fishing on the weekends, and building masterful beautiful homes for people. Hopefully, this article gets back to him somehow and I know he will get a kick out of it.
Aside from my own parents, Mike was the best teacher I ever had.
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