Once upon a time I fell in love with a house. I decided to buy it before even stepping in the front door… just because I peeked through the floor-to-ceiling window beside the front door, and saw all the elements of a house that make it a home. For me, anyway.
I saw brick, the back of the fireplace. I saw warm walls of red cedar boards in a vast open main room, and on the far wall, more floor to ceiling windows. In fact, when I stepped into the entrance way, I realized the entire wall was windows to the green and blooming backyard. I could immediately envision parties with live music. The kitchen was central, also open, and meant that cooking would place me — always — in the midst of my family. Yes, I loved the place instantly. A house, an investment, was beside the point. This was my place to grow family.
Then my father looked at it
A carpenter of so many decades. And he asked all those practical — boring — questions, and poked around the crawlspace, with its dirt floor and rusty pipes, and bridge missing under a span… yeah, right I had noticed the dip in the kitchen floor… but so what? “You can’t buy this place,” he said. “It’ll fall apart around your ears.”
There was only one thing I could do: call the one person to inspect the property who my father would listen to, my oldest brother, also a carpenter. Dad always said his son had far surpassed his own abilities. So I flew him down from where he lived, a five hour drive away, and he had a look. But before he did, talking on the phone, he said, “If I come down, and inspect it, and agree with Dad, are you going to take my advice and not buy the place?”
I had to think about it
I was so set on that house. But he was not going to come, unless I agreed. That made me think about what I was asking of him.
Now I think of that moment when I ask for advice, and also when people are asking me for my opinion and thoughts on an issue.
Listening and following — not the same thing
Note that the title here is not ‘plan to follow.’ It is possible that the advice will not actually work. But that will not get you off the hook for listening. If tempted, remember why you asked.
Recently, after years of writing grant applications, I reached out to a friend and colleague for his thoughts. He kindly offered to take a look at the material I was submitting. I had a good idea of just how long it would take him to read through a 20 page writing sample, and my lengthy responses to the application questions.
I should be a better writer than this, I thought. I’ve been doing this for a long time. I’ve published 11 books. Written national and provincial grant applications most years, for more than twenty years, and received only a small — very small — number.
I am missing something… is the only conclusion I can come to. Or the competition is fierce. Or my projects just don’t speak to those on the juries.
Of course, I could focus on that last possibility, and think, “It’s not me; it’s them,” but I know the competition is fierce — and I am most likely missing something.
So my thinking was: given the number of rejected applications in my past, I am going to listen to this friend’s advice — his applications do get green lights — and go beyond even an open mind, to committing to myself to do all changes and cuts and additions he suggests.
Mind made up, I did exactly this. And followed the advice to the letter.
I will add that my year of writing for Medium made this easier. I wrote more quickly than I used to, and I set aside my own ideas to think about the readers’ — those folks on the jury. This was not about me, not about ego. But I’d made a decision. And I reminded myself that I had no business asking for advice, and then not trying it, on a new and deeper level.
I waited until my re-working was done, and let it sit for a couple days. I think that was a critical step. Only then did I take a look.
And with the changes right in front of me, and my own eyes clear, I could see the logic to the suggestions.
We bought that house
It was our family home for almost twenty years, and a good one, rich with the realities of that floor plan — parties and family life and real connections. It did not fall apart around our ears.
As for the grant application, the results are still pending. But from the process I learned to trust going forward with faith. To know that an open mind is part of learning. Not to leap to foregone conclusions, but to weigh and measure.
Mostly, to listen. And to hear. To make decisions based in knowledge, humility, commitment and openness.
This post was previously published on medium.com.
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Photo credit: Charlotte Harrison for Unspash