The simple thing about complex things

information board on wall with papers in room

It always seems impossible until its done

Nelson Mandela

When reflecting on my day, I find often recurring themes or recurring lessons and advice. The reflection is often clearest when the same themes show up in various spheres of life. The latest such theme is that a task or project seems complicated not purely by the nature of the task, but also by the perceived amount of knowledge and experience I have with the task.

Similar to my recent experience of leaning into my irrational fear of drilling holes into our house, I’ve noticed two instances where I found myself making a task seem more complicated than it is. When describing this to my team or to family, I describe this as “going around the block, when one needs only to cross the street”.

A license plate saga

We got rear-ended while driving a few years ago. Everything and everyone is fine. Somehow, the small dent in our back bumper rectified itself (I’m convinced it was the Summer heat). The one casualty was that our back license plate came loose on one side. This is a matter of one screw being refitted, though this also involves removing the license plate itself. I’m ashamed to admit that this process to us 3 years to get fixed. As simple as the task seemed, I found myself overthinking it, because I wasn’t sure how to get the license plate out of it’s holder, or how to refit the plate.

Over the course of this three years, the license plate became a source of frustration for my partner and I, and a mild source of entertainment with family over time, as we all began to accept the state it was in, and to see the humour. Alongside all of this, there are many helpful souls on the roads today who will go out of their way to point out that your license plate is loose. Shame, they mean well.

We found a company who makes and installs license plates. They use a rivet gun to secure the plate. But still… how do they remove the current plate?

They drill through the existing rivet until it comes loose. I mean, how much simpler could it get?

Renovation lessons

As I write this, the exterior renovations begin on our home as we anticipate welcoming our son into the world. We’re bricking up two small windows in our hallway, in anticipation of building an extension against this wall in the years to come (and not having to paint the interior wall twice in a short time). These windows have sills and an overhang, as stylistic details. How do the builders remove the window sills? That seems complicated.

The hit the sill with a rubber mallet until it’s all gone. That’s it. Another case of anticipating “walking around the block” when all that’s required is to “cross the street”.

There is a lesson to learn here, about tasks which seem new or unfamiliar. Nelson Mandela said it best, in that a task seems impossible until it’s done.

When approaching something new or unfamiliar, ask yourself if you can cross the street instead of walking around the block.


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