I worked in a two-man furniture factory in my early 20s. I spent most of my time at the cutting machines; Radial arm saw, table saw, band saw. I can remember it was a particular flaw of mine to occasionally cut stuff one inch too short. Not two inches, not 1/2 inch. One inch. It baffled me—even scared me that I could make that same mistake over and over again as hard as I tried to prevent it. And when I made that mistake there was always a moment when I would look at that missing inch and wonder if there was any way I could wish away the mistake, turn back the clock or talk that lumber into being the right length.
It never worked. Not once did any lumber I cut one inch too short become the right length somehow. No wishing, no talking, no thinking could make it so. And I learned from that.
You’ve had the same kind of experience, and, of course, I have many times afterward in other circumstances. One of the things working with materials teaches you is inevitability. Some things just “are.”
There are things less material than a short stick of lumber that are equally as inevitable. Gravity is a good example. You can defy it for a while with an airplane, but you haven’t defeated it, or eliminated it, or done it any harm. You certainly haven’t changed it. You just looked like you did for a while.
Contractors know this. The rest of the world doesn’t seem to. I learned that afresh during a argument on Facebook.
Contractors have made enough mistakes with real tangible things that they know the immovability of inevitable things and successful contractors know that the response is slow down, think carefully and work within their confines. They become naturally cautious, conservative and thoughtful. They humble themselves to the facts, they don’t try to squeeze their eyes really tight, click their heels and wish them away.
Most of the rest of the world tries. They think world peace will come from all of us thinking good thoughts. They think just because they say something it must be so, or if it is not so, it will be if it is said often enough. They refuse to accept the inevitable because they don’t want to feel the crushing frustration, sense of failure, bafflement, embarrassment and work needed to start again. They can’t face the consequences of a piece of lumber cut one inch too short.
In different ways, contractors have had to. I had to. Now we can face facts that others can’t. And that’s what makes us different.