After two decades of renting, I recently became a homeowner for the first time. Seemingly overnight I went from someone who had barely held a screwdriver to owning three toolboxes full of tools (four if my partner’s father continues to forget about the one he brought round our first evening here.)
While renting, I never had to perform any maintenance or home improvements. I’d been renting for over ten years before overcoming the fear of forfeiting my security deposit for merely hanging a few pictures. And now I had a whole house that it was my responsibility to provide with TLC.
And. It. Is. Daunting.
Construction, plumbing, electrical; they all seem so impenetrable at first. Tradespeople would speak in jargon streams; Stud, Abutment, Cowl, Flashing, Mastic, GPF, Purlin, Auger, Leach Line, Hook Hickey, and they all seemed to have an endless list of specialised tools required for each job.
Every time I would start a new piece of improvement or maintenance, it seemed to follow the same pattern. I would do some research, watch a few Youtube videos, gather the right materials, and get to work. Only to find out later that I had the wrong tool, or I was missing an essential step, or the technique which the instructor had performed so effortlessly on the Youtube video was actually incredibly difficult, and I would mess it up over and over again.
I got frustrated; I got overwhelmed. On one memorable occasion, I decided to replace the kitchen faucet the same afternoon that my partner’s mom was due to see the house for the first time. The videos made it look so easy; disconnect the water, take out old faucet, put in a new faucet, reconnect the water, surely it couldn’t take longer than 30 minutes?
The video hadn’t prepared me for a bolt so seized that it would take four hours of swearing and finally a chisel and a hacksaw to remove before I could even begin fitting the new faucet. When the old faucet finally came out, my roar of triumph was loud enough to make the dogs jump.
And during it all, I have had many little moments of triumph. The first time I hung a new light fixture, fitting a garbage disposal, fixing the dishwasher I broke while fitting a garbage disposal. To any handy person, these tasks will seem trivial, but to me, they were the culmination of much research, and each completed job served as another little boost to my confidence, maybe I could do this after all?
It slowly began to dawn on me that I had gone through much the same process before.
The incomprehensible jargon-filled language, the almost endless list of tools and techniques to learn. The seemingly effortless way that peers would perform tasks that would take me days and many tears of frustration to replicate. The oppressive feeling that maybe I just wasn’t cut out for this, that I would only mess it up, that I would never be as good as the professionals.
It was very much like when I first started learning how to code.
At this point, I’ve been a professional programmer for the majority of my life, and sometimes it is easy to forget that the knowledge I take for granted took me a long time and many sleepless nights to acquire. I still remember the deep dread I would feel as a Junior developer, so certain that my boss was going to discover at any moment that I was a fraud, an imposter, that I had no idea what I was doing and would fire me on the spot.
Empathy and compassion are vital parts of my job, and I would suggest they should be an essential part of everyone’s job. I have been very privileged to have had the time to gain the experience I have. I know the tricks and techniques, not because I’m smarter or more capable, but because I’ve spent a lot of time making mistakes and fighting the seized bolts. I try to remember this when working with others, but sometimes I forget to grant myself the same understanding.
When learning to code, I was pretty hard on younger me. I rarely celebrated my victories, but often berated myself for every mistake and gap in my knowledge. This time I’ll be a little bit more understanding.
I will not know everything. I will not be as “good” as much more experienced people, nor should I expect to be. I will make mistakes, and when I do, the world will not end. I will need to ask for help. And asking for help does not mean I’ve failed; it just means I’m human.