The house was taken down to the studs, the kitchen and dining rooms were relocated, a room was removed from the second story to open up the ceiling, and the master suite was reconfigured. It looks like a completely different house. Although they’ve been residing in the basement of the house, this weekend, they are finally ‘moving in’. They have plumbing and electricity, dishes are in the cupboards and their furniture is in place. It’s a very exciting time for them, and no doubt, a big relief to finally see the fruits of not only their labours, but of the labours of many people.
We offered to help with the flooring. Jim has been over helping with odds and ends over the weeks. My contribution has been to bring them dinners. They have a hot plate in their basement ‘suite’ but no means of really cooking anything much more complicated than a grilled cheese sandwich. At the end of a long day of construction, sometimes a grilled cheese just doesn’t fill the tank.
This past weekend, when they were doing flooring, we figured this was a place we might be able to lend our help. Their house has a large footprint and they were laying hardwood throughout the main floor. I’ve never helped do this particular job before. I had heard people say they had done it. It sounded so simple. I imagined just snapping pieces in place and standing back to admire the result. I couldn’t really imagine the parts where you opened box after box of different lengths of boards, attempted to place them in a random, but purposeful order, lay a bead of glue, cut the boards to fit, hammer (tap is the ‘official’ term) the boards snuggly together and finally air nail them in place! We had a pretty efficient assembly line going. I was on layout, Jim was the cutter, Cara the ‘tapper’ and Greg the nailer.
At first what surprised me was how I was unable to estimate how long each room, or part of the room, would take to complete. Once we got the first day under our belts, and a few Advil in our bodies, I had polished this skill. And yet, it still astounds me, that a small closet could possibly take almost as long as a much larger, open space.
The challenge in a closet is that the confines of the small space means we were trying to fit all of us, our tools, our skills and our ideas into one fixed area. It didn’t work well. So, after I chose the pieces for the front hall closet, I stepped aside to let the others work. I was watching us use the same skills and tools we had used so well in the big spaces, in the smaller ones. The problem was, the little spaces had walls that kept getting in the way. I began to think about what happens when we try to fit our life, our ideas and our dreams, into small spaces too. I think the same result occurs. We are able to accomplish things, but not nearly as well, or creatively, as when we have more open areas.
When we were working in the larger spaces at Greg and Cara’s I had a chance to lay out many pieces of hardwood, to see how they fit with the previously laid rows of flooring and to make sure I wasn’t repeating a pattern. I also had a bit of a chance to get ahead of the others, to open new boxes, to make piles of the different sizes of wood and to plan for the next steps. I was even able to see what pieces might come in handy when we reached one of the smaller spaces. Every single piece of wood fit somewhere in the large spaces. There was room for everything. Nothing had to be discarded.
But in the small spots, the ones with the closed in walls, I wasn’t able to step back to see my work. I couldn’t notice where I was repeating patterns. I had to discard plenty of pieces that just could not fit. I knew that I didn’t have room for a lot of people, nor for a lot of variety, nor for a lot of vison.
The truth is, we miss a lot when we are inside closets.
We get so focused on the details of them, we fail to see the huge opportunities available to us just on the other side of the wall. We miss the chance to be something bigger than our small thoughts.
When we have small minds, it means we have rigid walls established. We have firmly fixed ideas of what is right. No matter how many new ideas try to float into them, the little walls make it almost impossible. After all, the space is already filled with our own firm thinking. So, we take a new idea and see if it can fit into what we already believe. If it cannot, we throw it out and look for an idea that will fit. It’s hard to incorporate new ideas without moving the walls. Just like in closets, walls are not easy to move; it’s easier to just fit our old way of working inside them.
I’ve often built up walls for myself. I don’t usually recognize it when I am doing it. It is only later, when I look back and notice how many things I missed out on, that I realize what I thought I was doing to keep my world organized and efficient, was actually just keeping my world small and predictable. I was protecting myself instead of trusting myself to grow. I was looking inward instead of out, in the mirror instead of out a window.
I’m glad we took care of the details inside of the closets at the new house. No one will every likely go inside them, get down on their knees and examine the work. But they will provide a wonderful place where guests can hang their coats before entering the big spaces, where there is enough space for everyone’s ideas, thoughts, beliefs and dreams.
We could have used more of this in our world this past week.
My inquiry for you this week is, ‘How can I expand my closet?’
Elizabeth is a certified professional Leadership Coach, and the owner of Critchley Coaching. She is the founder and president of the Canadian charity, RDL Building Hope Society. She works with corporations, non-profits and the public sector, providing leadership coaching. She creates and facilitates custom workshops for all sizes of groups. She has particular expertise in facilitating Strategic Plans for organizations. Contact Elizabeth to learn how to get out of your closet.