Teaching an Old Dog New Tricks: A Lesson in Growth Mindset

When Hurricane Florence hit NC (the first of two that hit this year) I was skeptical that it would do any damage in Greensboro.  Taking out the trash after we were dumped on with significant rain due to the hurricane I noticed a hole in the ground next to my chimney that looked like it might be leading straight into my basement.  A feeling of dread swelled in my belly, this was going to require time, or money or both to fix. “Maybe I can ignore this” I thought. When I returned the trash cans to the house the next day I took a closer look.  I’m going to have to do something about this hole and soon I realized. I started picturing my chimney crumbling from the bottom up destroying my house.

I did what any women who has a dad that can fix and do anything does.  I called my dad. “Papa, there is a hole caused by all the rain we got next to my chimney.  Can I just get a bunch of gravel pour it into the hole, add some sand and then add some soil on top?”  I was optimistic I could put a quick bandaid on this and forget it ever happened.

There was a pause on the other line.  “No Alisha, you’re going to have to dig down to the tile footer, find out what the problem is first and then fill in the hole with concrete”  He said. “Shit” I thought.

“But Papa, I don’t know how to do that” I protested like my house was his problem.  

Then came words of wisdom, the type of words I’ve heard throughout my childhood, but probably wasn’t listening well enough for them to sink in “it’s not that you don’t know how to do it.  You’ve just never done it YET. You don’t know how to do it yet is all.” Here was my almost 64 year old dad reminding me that I can learn to do anything I set my mind to do. My dad reminding me to embrace a growth mindset.  My dad doesn’t need Carol Dweck to know that a growth mindset is how you get things done, that’s who he is and probably why I do believe I can achieve whatever I set my mind to do even if I’m not completely sure how to do it YET.

He said he’d drive down to NC to help me take care of it (a 9 hour car ride at best).  I was relieved, but I wondered if I’d miss the lesson, because my dad is great at doing work like this himself, but he struggles when it comes to trying to explain to others what needs to be done.  He’s more of a “learn by watching me” kind of guy.

My parents got into Greensboro late Friday evening and he got to work first thing saturday morning as soon as there was a speck of daylight, it was clear he wanted to do it himself and it was for now a one person job.  

 Papa working on the hole!

Papa working on the hole!

Shortly after the above picture was taken I was in the house busy sending work emails when he called me on my cell phone from outside. “Alisha tell your mother to bring me some Alieve.” Hmmm, that’s strange I thought as I trundled out of my office to find my mom. We went outside with the Alieve.

“Are you ok?”
“We’ll see.” Typical dad response
”What did you do?”
”Threw my back out a little” he said as he clung to the porch.

After a trip to the only chiropractor I could find open on a Saturday morning we headed back to my house and I knew I needed to take the reigns and start digging! This is the type of work that once you start you’ve just gotta finish.

 See the black abyss under the chimney? That’s the hole leading straight into my basement.

See the black abyss under the chimney? That’s the hole leading straight into my basement.

As I dug, a wash of emotions consumed me as my internal dialog went haywire… “you’re not as fit as you thought you were. This is really hard. How can your 64 year old dad do stuff like this and you’re struggling? Why in gods name did you think buying a house bought in 1935 was a good idea? If you were a more successful entrepreneur you could have paid someone to do this and your dad wouldn’t have to spend his birthday throwing out his back on your account. You’re a failure to have to have your parents drive down to help you with your house. But look what you’re learning, look what you’re accomplishing.” And back and forth the mind swirled with negative self talk and positive self-talk, but if i’m being honest it was mostly negative self talk and I didn’t manage all that digging without a few tears of frustration, but not even because the digging was hard but because my mind is hard on me.

I had so much fear as I dug into the soil, the Carolina clay. Was this hole going to be so big and was I going to dig so much away from the chimney that the chimney itself would fall apart on me? My dad keep assuring me that wouldn’t happen and if it did there was a bigger issue than this hole, but because I’ve never done work like this before the unknown was crippling. I couldn’t wrap my head around what steps were next and the question of “how is this going to work out?” was consuming me. In my work as a coach I often tell people that in life we have to be able to take the first steps towards what we want without being able to see the full staircase. Here was an actual problem and I had to take each step without knowing what the next step was and it was making me crazy. Luckily for me there is something about manual labor that helps me work things out in my head and I just kept moving forward.

Papa and Alisha working on the hole.
Building the box 2.JPG

Finally I got down to the bottom and I took one board and put it in the back of the hole under the chimney. There was enough dirt behind it to make it stay put. Then I cut a board for the front. My dad did the math for how much concrete we needed. It took 300lbs of quick dry concrete. Yes I loaded all of that myself, one 50b bag at a time. At my house my mom helped me mix the concrete as my dad instructed us on what to do and I began to fill the hole under the chimney with concrete one bucket full at a time.

Concrete and Masonry work.JPG

There were so many lessons from this work.
First, a much needed reminder that if you want to do something that feels overwhelming because you’d never done it before it’s not that you don’t know how to do it. You’ve just not done it yet!
Second, there are so many times you have to take the first step without knowing what the next step is, this is how you learn. Take the steps one at a time and try not to stress about what you don’t know yet because it doesn’t help, it will only paralyze you.
Third, I can do hard things
Fourth, Keep moving forward
Fifth, Manual labor is good for your body and soul
Sixth, My parents are the best. They are still taking care of this 36 year old, they are still teaching me and showing me what unconditional love is and how you take care of the people you love.

I hope that the next time you’re considering doing something you’ve never done before that seems overwhelming and scary you’ll remember that it’s not that you don’t know how to do it. “You just haven't done it YET”.