When the Going Gets Tough

chestOne Saturday last May, my wife Susan went to a local flea market with a friend. They hadn’t been gone long when I received a phone call. Susan had bought something and needed me to bring the truck in order to get it home. It was an old chest, beaten and neglected for years. My first thought was that she’d wasted $50 and a chunk of my time, because this thing needed to be put out of its misery. Of course, Susan wanted me to restore it.

I’m by no means a professional, but I believe I did a decent job. This chest will serve us well for years to come, and may even become an heirloom piece in our family. I learned a lot while tackling this project, not all of it about restoring furniture.

I’ve learned to wait for the best results. It’s taken me well over a year to complete this project. To be honest, the chest sat ignored in the shop for a few months. I worked around it while completing other, easier-to-finish, tasks. When I finally turned my attention to it, I just wanted it done and out of my way. I considered patching what I could and painting it. Looking back, that would have been a huge mistake.

We’ve become so accustomed to the quick fix. We want everything done now. We want to check items off of our to-do list so badly that we’re often willing to settle. We text when we should call. We give partial effort to a dozen responsibilities at once and never really do any of them justice. We’ve become a drive-by culture, unwilling to take our time to enjoy the work we’re engaged in.

Everything changes when we decide to settle for nothing less than the best.

I’ve learned to lean into tough jobs. Every completed step of this project revealed something else that needed to be addressed. When I removed the top to square up the frame of the chest, it fell apart. When I began stripping away the old finish, I found decades old repair jobs that needed correcting. And take a look at the door in the first picture. It’s that jumble of wood shards piled in the opening. I wanted to repair the original, but it was so badly damaged, I decided to build a new one from scratch. Each of these issues became mini projects of their own. And each completed step motivated me to tackle the next.

We’ve learned to shy away from tough jobs. If something looks overwhelming, we decide it’s not worth the effort regardless of the potential benefits. We convince ourselves that we don’t have the time, when really we just don’t have the fortitude to take on the difficult challenges.

Everything changes when we focus on what’s really important.

I’ve learned to appreciate scars. The more I worked on this chest, the more I began to value its history. There’s a corner missing from the top. There’s a mouse hole chewed in the back of the bottom drawer. There are deep scratches and stains on the inside. I decided to leave some of these imperfections because I believe that not everything has to be perfect in order to be valuable. In fact, value often comes from the hard knocks.

We’ve adopted a disposable approach to life. If something doesn’t work perfectly, we dispose of it. We don’t take care of what we have because we know we can just replace it if things go bad. When something, or someone, doesn’t fit our idea of perfection, we pass them by. We’ve lost the ability to see the beauty in imperfection.

Everything changes when our point of view does.

Yeah, I’d say my initial thoughts about this chest were a little off-base. It took a lot of time and work, but the result was worth it. I’m proud of the finished product and my woodworking skills have improved a few notches. I’ll take what I’ve learned and apply those lessons to the next project – which my wife has already identified for me. Stay tuned.