Lessons I Learned From Overcoming HVAC Adversity
Obstacles give us the opportunity to learn important lessons
We all have daily challenges in our jobs. When faced with an obstacle, we decide to either dig in and overcome it or quit and walk away. The consequences of those decisions slowly mold us into the individuals we become. Let’s look at how I approached my first industry obstacle — the big green monster — and the four traits it brought out in me.
MY ENCOUNTER WITH THE MONSTER
My first real industry obstacle presented itself 27 years ago at a trade school in Lexington, Kentucky. If you interviewed my fellow classmates, I probably would have been voted most likely to burn a house down or get into a ductboard fight with an installation crew. I wasn’t exactly a go-getter and full of wisdom.
I’ll never forget the day that dreaded assignment was given to me. My teacher, Lester Sensabaugh, approached me and said, “Richardson, it’s your turn to wire up the big green monster.” My stomach started churning as I considered what was coming next. You see, the big green monster was a three-phase motor control panel that each of us had to wire from scratch, and my wiring diagram skills weren’t the best.
After a lot of failures and frustration, I considered quitting and just taking a zero on the grade — I was done. However, Mr. Sensabaugh and the guys in class wouldn’t let me quit. Leroy, Brian, Jerry, Ben, Scott, Fred, and Diamond Dave all encouraged, helped, and pushed me to finish the assignment. They wouldn’t do it for me, but they got me there. Looking back, I realize now that four qualities appeared as a result of this project — qualities that would not become apparent without struggle and failure.
The first quality I picked up was perseverance. This trait is a commitment you make to yourself to keep moving forward, regardless of how hard an obstacle might be or how long it may take to overcome. Many people don’t reach their full potential because they quit at the first sign of an issue. You’ve probably heard the old saying, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try, try again.”
What’s interesting for me regarding the big green monster was the initial perseverance wasn’t mine. It was from those around me. Their attitude became contagious. If they thought I could do it, then why was I questioning myself? Their belief in me ultimately transformed me to believing in myself.
Count your blessings if you’re fortunate enough to have someone who believes in you and pushes you when you don’t feel like doing it yourself. If you’re lucky, their enthusiasm will eventually rub off.
Patience was the second quality the big green monster brought out in me. At 18 years old, I wasn’t the role model for tolerance. I wanted the assignment to be done yesterday and didn’t want to invest the time in myself to get better. Patience forces us to have the discipline to put off what we want right now for something better in the future.
Personal growth is about the journey, not the end. The big green monster forced me to study and learn wiring schematics, which resulted in me becoming a better technician. There was no option to throw parts into the box until it ran. I had to figure it out and adapt, as Mr. Sensabaugh would review my work and say, “Not yet, little Indian.”
Each failure was an opportunity to learn from my mistakes. Older students with more wisdom than me had to help me see this. It was an opportunity to figure out what I needed to fix so that I was one step closer to success the next time. If you struggle to learn a new skill, give yourself the time needed to master it. If you try and fail, write down what went wrong and how you can be sure you don’t repeat it again. Your patience and confidence will increase if you change your view of failure.
One of the toughest lessons the big green monster taught me was humility. I had to admit that I didn’t have all the answers. I didn’t have the insight yet to know it was OK to ask others for help and rely on their knowledge and expertise.
Once I got past my insecurity and started asking questions, I was shocked at the collective knowledge of the guys in my class. Some had dealt with three-phase motors for decades and pointed me to the places I needed for information. There were no egos, only a willingness to help.
It’s OK if you don’t have all the answers. Be humble enough to admit you’re growing, and don’t be ashamed to ask questions of seasoned techs around you. If you’re an experienced tech who is questioned by a younger tech, help them grow from your experiences. You’ll be amazed how rewarding it is. Don’t be the one who makes them feel ignorant or belittles them for asking a question — if you do, you’re a jerk.
The fourth quality I learned might sound like it contradicts the third, but it builds on it. I took ownership of what I didn’t know and learned when I needed to get others involved. There is a fine line between being stubborn and independent. That fine line is self-reliance. I had to learn where that line was and know when I was crossing it in either direction.
Believe in yourself enough to go get the answers. There are so many resources you can refer to with the swipe of your thumb today. Find the places you can go for good information and share them with others.
Don’t be lazy and depend on everyone else to do your work for you. If you’re the tech who constantly calls the office to find out what your refrigerant pressures should be, it’s time to own your role and stand on your own two feet. If you’re the one in the office repeatedly handling these call types, stop being an enabler and equip your techs with the knowledge and confidence they need to do it themselves.
WE ALL HAVE BIG GREEN MONSTERS
The big green monster comes in all shapes and sizes, and it affects us both personally and professionally. I’ve faced many other big green monsters since then, and some of them seemed impossible to overcome. If you feel this way, keep pushing ahead and don’t quit — many people stop just short of success because they give up on themselves too soon.
If you approach your big green monster the right way, life will be filled with opportunities to grow. If you look at your challenges through the wrong lenses, you may never recognize the opportunities available to you.
If you’re a teacher or mentor, have patience with those you’re working with and encourage them to believe in themselves. Help them see that they can do it and give them the tools they need to succeed. Build up those around you. You might be surprised where they end up. Remember, these skills will help you in life, not just in the trade.
Finally, Mr. Sensabaugh, if you’re reading this, thank you for not letting me walk away from that funky green panel. The lessons are still with me almost three decades later.
If you’re an HVAC contractor or technician interested in learning more about conquering your big green monster, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 800-633-7058. NCI’s website www.nationalcomfortinstitute.com is full of free technical articles and downloads to help you improve your professionalism and strengthen your company.
Publication date: 6/17/2019