This summer my family volunteered to work on a garage that had been flooded more than once and now sat dank, closed, cluttered and unusable. Not an easy or pleasant task, but we were, the four of us, driving the 4+ hours to tackle it with gloves, long sleeves, dust masks and various tools and cleaning supplies. On the way, I had a bit of dread and guilt wash over me for signing us up for this task, and I looked in the back seat at my two teens as they looked at their phones, and I asked how they were doing with the unpleasant chore ahead. The boy child just shrugged an okay. The girl thought for a second or two, I could see the wheels turning in her head.
Then responded with, “Well, the way I see it, mamma, it is kind of like picking up a ‘hot turd’. No one wants to do it, but somebody’s got to do it. So, do it, do it fast and move on.”
I caught my breath, then I laughed, and I mean LAUGHED! She was surprised, and a bit concerned that she had been too abrupt, but I assured her that was not the case. My kids often seem to get the gist of life quickly and clearly with certainty. She typically isn’t afraid to share.
We traveled on and were joined by other volunteers who we bonded with quickly, but there was a part of me that chuckled every occasionally, over the phrase “hot turd”.
Was this job going to be easy and pleasant like a cup of tea? Nope, but I had help from people that I care about. There were things that we found that were keepers, however, most of the contents of the garage were a loss and ended up in big trash bags or loaded it onto a trailer to be hauled away.
These are the insights that grew out of that “hot turd” three-day weekend:
- When you are faced with a task that reeks of feces, you must ask yourself, “Is this really my ‘hot turd’?” Is this really your job to do? We talked about this in the car after the laughter died down. Sometimes you can find yourself in the role of “rescuer” or “victim” and take on way too much. This may be a pattern if you feel depleted emotionally or physically often, or you find yourself putting in a lot of effort with the expectation of approval. When I checked this for myself, I realized that my expectations were not for praise or thanks and that I had built in some down time to renew myself afterward.
- You don’t have to go it alone. Asking for help doesn’t come easily to some of us. You can’t see it, but I am raising my hand on this big time. Hi, I am DeAnne, and I don’t like asking for help;) This was more than one person could handle, and we knew that four of us could work together on this moldy mountain and make a small dent, but there were other people along for the duration to make the days go faster. This made all the difference, not only did we share the workload, but along the way, there was some laughter and bonding happening.
- Take care of you and your team, and throw in a “carrot” or two. We had the right tools, safety gear and did an informal briefing on safety before we began. Frequent breaks were on the order, with water and a bit of ice cream at lunch, purely for medicinal reasons. As for “carrots”, or rewards, we planned to order pizza to satisfy our hunger after the long days and organized a swim and a dip in a hot tub to soothe our sore muscles after each hard day at work. We reminded each other how fun it would be to have the treat throughout the day, and man did we need those reminders!
- Focus on what you have control over. Recognize what you have control over, and what you don’t. We couldn’t turn back time, or tides in this case. We couldn’t unflood the garage, or wave a magic wand to make the tons of decaying clutter disappear, but we could do what was necessary, appreciate the people who worked along with us and be satisfied with progress along the way and the ultimate outcome.
- Be in the moment. I have to admit that the work was hard and some of it was done through blurry sweat burning eyes, squeals of disgust, but I was present. In the individual moments, I could appreciate the hands working next to mine, the talents that were shared, the few salvaged items that could be set aside, and the muscle and the know-how that came together making the project conquerable in three days. The volunteers ranged from age 6 to almost 60 with backgrounds of teaching, business, and firefighting, and all had something to offer.
At the end of the weekend, there were no parades, no ribbons, no award ceremony, nor certificates… A negative had been turned into a positive, and sore muscles were reminders of what we had accomplished together. There were lots of handshakes and high fives, but for me, there was this feeling that I had been changed over the three days. There was a quiet satisfaction within me, as I took a step back to see the difference in the physical space. I could see that this garage was restored from a “hot turd” to its original use and purpose, not shabby for 3 days work.