Brake Break

This is what I did this weekend:

There’s a couple reasons why I decided to replace the brake pads and rotors on my 2005 Chevy Silverado myself.  First and foremost because I am a tight wad.  Secondly, I like a challenge every now and then.

When I was growing up my dad did a lot of repairs around the house.  They never went all that well, the process that is, not necessarily the final result.  He did plumbing, drywall, electrical, you name it.  My dad was not a jack-of-all-trades by any means.  We just didn’t have all that much money.  If we needed something done around the house it was far less expensive to do it ourselves.  My dad was frugal.  I remember thinking at some point in my childhood that someday I wanted to be rich enough that I could pay people to do this kind of work for me.  Most of the time that is what I do but no, I am not rich.

About a month ago I took my truck to the garage to be inspected.  The call from the mechanic indicated about $1000 dollars in repairs in order for a new sticker to be placed on the truck.  Five hundred of those hard earned dollars were for new brake pads and rotors.  I had seen my father-in-law do this job and it didn’t seem impossible.  My dad never messed with vehicular repairs aside from changing flat tires.  One advantage that I had over my dad was the internet and YouTube.  I spent a couple weeks reading articles and watching videos and determined with only a shadow of a doubt that I could complete this repair on my own.  I also talked to several of my colleagues.  Some laughed, some thought I was crazy, one said with a snicker that she appreciated my confidence.

Confidence is the key here.  I guess confidence can be misguided but it can also be underutilized.  This is where the second reasoning for this DIY project comes in.  Projects like this, putting yourself out there more than usual, can build confidence.  It’s basically a mini-lesson in building confidence for other parts of your life.  Of all the people I know, only a couple had ever attempted to change their own brakes.

As always, the genesis of any DIY project takes courage.  You are taking the BRAKES off of your car!  You know you need those to drive, right?  Is my lack of ability going to end up costing me more in the end.  It took me half of a day to take off one wheel, brake and rotor.  I would do one little part and then fight with myself about whether I had the ability to finish.  At one point I was looking up the phone number of another mechanic.  Then one major task was completed and my confidence went up.  Another one and another one followed.  I did have to call a friend when I stripped off a screw but other than that I completely removed the first wheel – tire – rotor combo in about four hours. I celebrated a little in my mind and then removed the combo from the other side – in 20 minutes.  My confidence was rewarded.  I was flying high.

It was like a microcosm of my professional life.  The victories are far apart sometimes but when they occur I get that some feeling of powerfulness.  That is the reason that I enjoy doing DIY projects.  The rewards come quickly and you know that everything is of your doing.  Good or bad, it’s on you.  My spirit seems renewed each time.

The job isn’t done yet.  As you can see from the photo, the brakes aren’t back on.  Tomorrow will hopefully bring those victories.

By the way, don’t tell my father-in-law yet.  He doesn’t know what I’m up to.


Led by a Dog

This afternoon, Fletcher and I went for a hike along the Appalachian Trail.  When your only companion has a canine brain, you think a lot.  On this trip I couldn’t help but to begin thinking about leadership and the lessons that I could learn from my furry friend.  Not all of them are lessons, some of them are things that I always knew or believed but were revived by today’s experience:

1.  Starting takes Courage – Fletcher was a rookie AT hiker and this wasn’t the easiest of hikes.  He was very tentative crossing the railroad tracks to the trail head.  Once he got a good sniff of the trail he was good to go.  We need to remember that we need this courage not only to begin to lead but most of us need courage every day.  We are charged with some tough tasks. Some days I pray for courage and some days I just bull my neck and take their best shots.  The important thing is to start.

2.  Sometimes its OK to follow – My travelling companion was very cool on single track.  He would pull me through clearings at a brisk pace.  He was also very adept at finding the trail through some rocky terrain.  I had hiked this section numerous times and knew how I wanted to go but there were times when it was more interesting and rewarding to see how he would conquer the trail.  One of my basic beliefs about leadership is that you have to surround yourself with the best people and trust them to make decisions.  I work with some tremendous teachers and I learn as much from them as hopefully they learn from me.  They are leaders.  My hope is that I give them the tools that they need and them let them lead me.

4.  You have to be trustworthy in times of trouble – At times Fletcher would get very skittish.  He’s a bit of a nervous dog.  At these times he would walk so close to my ankles that I was afraid he wasn’t there because there was no pull on the leash.  His trust was in me to get him to a place were he felt safe.  This is not always the easiest thing to do.  A leader has to build trust in the good times in order to be trusted in the hard times.  Let them walk behind you if they need to until they trust themselves enough to walk beside you.

5.  Sometimes you have to lead with a short leash – On this particular section of the AT the terrain is scattered with large limestone boulders and fields of smaller limestone rocks.  Anyone who has hiked through Pennsylvania knows what I mean.  Through-hikes have cursed it as the most miserable section from Maine to Georgia.  The white trail markers are the only things that indicate that there is any trail at all.  Basically you are walking boulder to boulder from one blaze to the next.  Through some of these sections I had Fletch on a three foot leash.  Not as punishment but as added guidance.  When people who you lead are struggling they need to be on a shorter leash.  You need to interact with them more frequently.  You need to guide them through the pain.  This is difficult because its so much more rewarding to interact with the people who are blazing the trail. Remember, they have already earned the longer leash or the ability to run free.

6.  If no one is following you, are you the leader? – Probably not.  Fletcher had this odd habit of looking back to make sure that I was following him.  Specifically he would turn his head after he traversed a typically difficult stretch of trail.  Almost as if to say, “Are you going to make it?”  When things get rough in your organization you need to make sure that you haven’t lost your followers.  In particular the core group of people who you trust and who trust you.  Those people are your disciples.  They will make sure the others aren’t far behind.  If you lose them you are leading no one.  Consider the opinions and thoughts of these people when you make plans to weather the storm.  They’ll bring the coffee.

7.  Leave the path sometimes – It is a cardinal rule of hiking to “Leave no Trace.”  Not only does this mean cleaning up after yourself but it also means to stay in the trail in order to protect the living things that survive just off the trail.  I always hike this way.  The pooch at the end of my leash didn’t always like this tenet.  He had a penchant for jumping on the huge, limestone boulders.  It looked like fun but I knew my knees couldn’t take it.  On the trail it is important to stay the course.  In our work it is sometimes important to go in another way.  Take a chance on something that you believe in.  Go against the status quo.  Great leaders know when to hold strong to the path and when to take a chance.

8.  You can’t cross a chasm in two small steps – Fletcher knows this.  When he came to a portion of the trail where it was rock to rock he would debate in his little canine brain the distance and decide whether to jump or to step down and back up again.  These decisions are the big decisions that leaders must deal with.  The distance across the chasm  can be calculated by how far we are already behind everyone else and how important is it that we catch up or go ahead.  Sometimes you have to take the leap and sometimes a step will get you there.

Funny how a walk in the woods with a dog can bring up all these thoughts.  Funny how when your mind has nothing else to do but smell fresh air and take in the scenery how clear your thoughts are. My ninth lesson would be that:  whatever it is that you do for relaxation, for mind clearing, for thinking without distraction, make a date with yourself to do it as often as possible.

QWERTY – Android Photography

I have been on Google+ for about a week now.  Not much action until I joined an Android Phone Photography group.  I got like 300 new friends in three days!  There are a ton of photographers on G+.  I never used my phone much for “photography.”  Picture taking; yes.  Photography; not so much.  I have the cheapest Android phone you can buy and the camera isn’t exactly professional equipment.  It does have its advantages, though.  Macro photography seems to be one.  The detail isn’t great bu this is my first shot at Android Photography.  I processed it using PSE.  (I think I need to clean my keyboard.)