It's strange how some lessons in life stay with you for years. Some of which you continue to adapt new information and new lessons to over time. I learned a lot about ladders from my older brother Brent a long time ago.
In 1997 or 1998 I was working for Brent. Well the way this went down was actually slightly different than that. I worked for him many times in my life. I started around the age of 14 and continued until I was about 25. Brent was a painter. Perhaps he will be again someday, though I thinks he has hopes that it is now behind him. Still, once you learn a trade it is kind of a part of you no matter where you go or what you do.
So, round about 1998 I was talking to my friend Jamie. He and I thought it would be a pretty cool idea if I were to move out to Vallejo, CA and live with him for a while. I had a lot of independence in my late teenage years. We decided that it was going to happen. All I needed was some cash to get there. My mom called Brent and asked if he had something I could work on to earn some quick gas money. A day later I was in Orem, UT dressed to paint houses.
Up until this point in my life Brent had really only ever allowed me to do prep work for him. You know, sanding and caulking and the like. It's rigorous work and there is no fun in it. However this time was different. I showed up and Brent handed me 3 things: a ladder, a bucket and a brush. He pointed out some windows sills and told me to get up the ladder and get painting. Then he got in his truck and left.
For the next 6 hours I was more or less all alone. I thought the work in front of me was daunting. I was to paint trim around 4 or 5 windows in an almost peanut butter color. All of the windows were on the second story. There were only 2 that forced me to stand on the ladder to paint. The others were gables and so I could sit on the roof nearby and paint them. I remember starting with the harder ones.
First I had to get the ladder up to the windows. It was an extension ladder and as I recall was rather heavy. Setting it up was one of the hardest things I had to do that day. I almost put it through a window. Luckily it bounced off. Once I got it up on the left side of the first window I only needed to climb it and start painting.
So, I got my bucket and brush and started climbing the ladder. The first time up an extension ladder is kind of a defining moment in my opinion. Basically from that point on one of two things can happen. Either you will never climb one again or you will force yourself to be okay with it and never care about it again. I suppose we could have a nice conversation about that alone. Another time perhaps.
I climbed that ladder with bucket in hand. I realized as I took each step that I was going to have to decide if this was frightening. Once I got to the top I realized that I could see above and over the houses in the neighborhood. My decision was easy. I wasn't afraid. I should note that since that day I have fallen off a ladder twice with no injury yet, just to pat myself on the back a little.
The rest of the day I spent a lot of time going up and down the ladder. I had to move it a lot to reach different areas of the windows. I had to refill the pain bucket. After a while the thought of fear left and I started feeling like the ladder was a chore more than anything else. It was really hard to move and really hard to climb up and down with a bucket of paint.
Some hours passed and Brent returned. He was appalled at how little I had finished. He took me aside and asked me what I thought at the time to be a stupid question. He asked, "Do you know what takes the most time out of your day when you are painting?" My instant answer was, "climbing up and down the ladder." He paused only momentarily thinking I was giving him a smart-alec response. However, I was serious. From my limited view of painting the ladder climbing was what took me the most time. However, Brent had a larger perspective and was trying to share that with me. He continued and said, "No, the thing that takes the most time painting is dipping the brush. If you do it wrong you can lose up to 40% of your work time just dipping the brush." He then taught me how to dip my brush fast and effective.
About a year later I realized that he was completely right. I realized that much of painting is done without a ladder or with a step stool that is easy to ascend and descend. But when it is time to put paint on the wall you have to be quick about it. I realized that the technique he taught me that day was actually a vital tool for painting, not just for painting that one day. Brent saw the big picture when he taught me that lesson. He was standing on top of a different ladder that day and was calling down to me below with advice.
As it turns out I have learned a lot of lessons based on this simple one. I learned the value of efficiency. Over the years efficiency has proven to be a valuable tool in all my employment. I was able to directly use that lesson for many years as I painted homes, mostly for Brent and some short time with Dennis. I adapted that as a lab technician and taught myself how to accomplish all of the mundane tasks that lab workers do as quickly and efficiently as possible. This left me open in the past for taking part in some extra projects with talented engineers where I learned many more valuable lessons.
The idea of a ladder is prevalent in the business world. Many people talk about climbing the corporate ladder. I think for a while I got caught up in that myself. I wanted to become someone important. I worked very hard to be considered for positions of great responsibility. Ultimately I did receive some of those coveted positions. I realized much later that climbing that ladder, though it did have its advantages, made me into a strange kind of person. A lot of people didn't like that version of me. Looking back there are some things that I don't like about that version of me.
I think that is why, as I now see people heedlessly trying to climb their business ladders, I desire to stop them from their silly games. I want to show people that their ego wants power but their social well being doesn't. I realize this is something I could never have known let alone taught had I not reached what is essentially the top of one of these ladders, from which I now look down and say try climbing a different ladder, one that is more rewarding.